I didn’t know any more about St. Joseph than I did about St. Patrick, not being Catholic or Italian or connected to the Irish in me, so this is for those of you who like me, didn’t know.
Saint Joseph’s Day, March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It has the rank of a solemnity in the Roman Catholic Church; Catholics who follow the Missal of 1962 celebrate it as a first class feast. Previous to 1962 it was celebrated as a feast of the rank of double of the first class.
In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, and many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph’s Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola on St. Joseph’s Day. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs. (Who knew pastry chefs had their own patron saint. No wonder Italian pastry is so great.)
Upon a typical St. Joseph’s Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.
Saint Joseph’s Day is also celebrated in American communities with high proportions of Italians such as New York City; Utica, New York; Buffalo; Kansas City, MO; Chicago; Gloucester, Mass.; and Providence, Rhode Island, where observance (which takes place just after Saint Patrick’s Day) often is expressed through “the wearing of the red”, i.e., wearing red clothing or accessories similar to the wearing of green on Saint Patrick’s Day.
St. Joseph’s Day is also the day when the swallows are traditionally believed to return to Mission San Juan Capistrano after having flown south for the winter.
So now you know.