by David Tesitor
Move over Saint Patrick, Saint Joseph is right behind you. Just when you thought it was safe to put away your green hat and shoes, Italians are donning the red and setting a table for a banquet.
The St. Joseph’s Table, celebrated every March 19, has been a tradition among Italian Catholics for centuries. Joseph was the patron saint of workers and families, husband of Mary, and foster father of Jesus Christ. The feast day is thought to have begun during the Middle Ages, at a time of severe famine in Sicily. Food was scarce. The earth was parched. Many people starved. The poor only had their faith and families to rely on. Saint Joseph was known as the protector of the Holy Family; thus Italians with strong family relationships prayed fervently to God and asked St. Joseph to intercede for them to ensure successful crops. When their prayers were answered and the rains came, the famine came to an end.
The grateful people made a promise to offer their most precious possession as a sacrifice to the Lord, their food. Hence, the tradition of honoring the patron saint began. Since that time, the tradition has spread throughout Europe and most Catholics set aside the nineteenth day of March, presumed to be his birthday, to offer a table of food to share with the entire community. The feast of St. Joseph also marked the beginning of spring in many countries. A Czech proverb, “Pekne-li na Svatteno Josefa, byna dobny rok.” can be roughly translated, “If it’s nice on St. Joseph’s day, it will usually be a good year.”
The feast begins with a blessing of the table by the priest, an explanation of the symbols and the presentation of the food itself. The table is presided over by a statue of Saint Joseph. A stalk of lilies, votive candles and lace tablecloths adorn the tables. Usually, the meal is set at the church or in homes. The foods are usually elaborately made, consisting of fine breads, pastas, meatless dishes and cookies. It is common to have specialty foods of the parish community. Guests are invited and the meal is an all-day affair.
Saint Mary’s Church will again hold their annual meal. Ann Mantini, a proud Italian herself, has organized the meal at the church for years in keeping with her heritage. Everyone is welcome to participate. It begins today immediately after Mass and will go on throughout the day. Locally, the tradition of Saint Joseph’s day is almost 100 years old. It started in the early days of the parish when the Italian immigrant miners celebrated the meal in the local coal camps. The wearing of the red is mostly an American tradition as the Italian Americans wanted to do something which was not green. This tradition has been kept alive by the diverse cultures of the people of Saint Mary’s.
If you wish to bring a dish or share in this day long feast, come to Mazzone Hall sometime today. All are welcome.