On March 19th, the Catholic Church celebrates the feast of St. Joseph. It’s an important day! St. Joseph is Mary’s spouse and Jesus’ foster father, but he’s also the patron of the universal Church, and as such, is every Catholic’s spiritual father.
Italians (and many Italian Americans) take his feast very seriously, thanks to a centuries-old favor he paid them. They wear red, set up special altars, and bake bread in honor of the foster-father of Jesus.
St. Joseph’s miracle in Sicily
In the middle ages, there was a drought that almost caused a famine in Sicily. The people invoked the intercession of St. Joseph, and asked if he would spare their crops, they would make a feast in his honor. Sure enough, their crop (which happened to be fava beans—more on that later) survived and the famine was averted! Ever since then, many legends and traditions have grown up around the feast day, most of them (of course) involving food. The most colorful of these, however, is the one surrounding St. Joseph’s eponymous pastries.
Zeppole di San Giuseppe is, in most of its forms, a cream-filled pastry that’s often topped with a cherry. One legend has it that when St. Joseph took the Holy Family to Egypt, he was out of work (there isn’t much wood there), so he had to find some way of supporting his family. Naturally, he took to selling street food, and sweet pastries were his best-seller! Another legend tells that Mary was out of food, so she asked for some of the wood chips from beneath St. Joseph’s work bench. She fried them, and they miraculously became fried dough! Regardless of the somewhat dubious veracity of these legends, the fact remains: St. Joseph’s day is a day for cream pastries.
St. Joseph altar
Italians have other traditions they observe on March 19 as well. They set up table “altars” to St. Joseph, a nod to the original feast of thanksgiving. This table usually consists of pane di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s bread), wine, candles, limes, and (of course) zeppole. There’s also a bowl of blessed fava beans, which are supposed to bring St. Joseph’s blessing to your home so that you’ll never go hungry or go without money! These altars range from simple tables in the home to lavish displays in churches, and the food on them is usually donated to the poor.
St. Joseph’s feast, of course, isn’t just for Italians (who celebrate Father’s Day on March 19). Just as the Blessed Virgin Mary is everyone’s Mother, so is St. Joseph everyone’s father. He’s the patron of the Universal Church, and his fatherly care extends to all peoples. That means his feast day is a big deal for all of us! In fact, traditions for his feast are found all over the world!
In Mexico, the entire month of March is set aside for venerating St. Joseph.
The Las Fallas festival in Spain involves elaborate parades and ends with giant wooden sculptures being burned in city courtyards.
In the Czech Republic, families give gifts of bread and beans to other households.
The Polish even have a saying, “St. Joseph shakes his beard, and see, winter has disappeared!”
Easy ways to celebrate St. Joseph
So, how can we celebrate St. Joseph’s day? Here are some simple ways:
- Wear red. Red is the color traditionally associated with St. Joseph.
- Set out a prayer card of St. Joseph. It will remind you of the feast day!
- Put an image of St. Joseph on your phone or computer. A device background is the next best thing after a prayer card! Miles Christi has some beautiful images to choose from.
- Start a novena. Traditionally, novenas are said over nine days, and St. Joseph’s feast day is a good day to begin one in his honor, or to ask for his intercession! You can also begin on March 10th, and you’ll finish the day before his feast.
- Eat a cream puff. St. Joseph’s day is a solemnity in the Catholic Church, which means it’s a break from Lent! Or, enjoy your favorite kind of pastry (or fried dough, like churros!) without worrying about breaking your Lenten observances.
How do you celebrate St. Joseph’s day? Comment below or @ us on social media!