An Italian-American Tradition
By: Guido Reni, c 1635
This feast day has been dedicated to Saint Joseph honoring Him as the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the earthly father of Jesus Christ. Not much is known about St. Joseph except that He was a devoted husband and father and a carpenter by trade. We don’t know when or where He died.
The origin of this holiday dates back to Sicily during the Middle Ages when the people were being plagued with a severe drought. The people prayed to St. Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian) to let it rain and stop the famine. The people promised they would prepare a large feast to honor Him. It did rain and the Sicilians prepared an enormous feast using the fava bean, which was the hearty crop that saved them from starvation. Today tables of pastries and meatless dishes are prepared in His honor in Christian countries around the world. A delicate and scrumptious dessert, the Zeppole di San Giuseppe is made in various ways with vanilla custard, ricotta, chocolate or whipped crème fillings and a cherry is placed on top of each pastry. Assortments of breads, some made from the fava beans, are also made along with cookies and cakes. Pasta dishes prepared with anchiovies, shrimp, octopus, calamari and sardines are prepared for the meatless meals since the holiday falls during the Lenten season. Everyone has to sample at least one dish containing bread for good luck and one dish containing fava beans for good health!!!!!
St. Joseph is also known as the patron saint of pastry chefs and the home. When people are having a problem selling their home they invoke the aid of this beloved saint and bury a statue of Him upside down in a box in their front yard.
St. Joseph’s Day is also referred to as the day when the swallows are believed to return to Capistrano after flying south for the winter.
Having been fortunate to be named after St. Joseph, I’ve had the privilege each year, while growing up, to celebrate this feast day in my family. Since my Neopolitan grandmother was a native of Naples, and a number of my family members have been blessed with either Joseph or Josephine for their baptismal name, she made sure the custom and veneration continued in her family!!!!
“Salute e Grazie A Nonna Giuseppina”
Don’t forget to wear red clothing or accessories on this special feast day as a sign of your respect to St. Joseph.
I hope you enjoy the abbondanza of this feat and its true significance.