St. Joseph’s Day
In America March 19 is always celebrated as Saint Joseph’s Day. (Saint Joseph was the symbolic, but not birth, father of Jesus.) In Italy March 19 is also celebrated as Father’s Day. My Grandmother Theresa taught me the customs of the Italian celebration of this Christian Feast Day.
Saint Joseph’s Day always falls during Lent, so the food served on this day never has meat, and the food that is served represents the harvest so no cheese is served. Therefore, the pasta which is traditionally served is sprinkled with bread crumbs rather than cheese.
I remember Grandma asking me on one Feast Day if I knew why bread crumbs were used on the food, instead of another non-cheese seasoning
“No, Grandmacita,” I answered wonderingly.
“Because the bread crumbs symbolize the sawdust Saint Joseph –and Jesus would-- create when they sawed wood to make furniture for their customers in Nazareth,” she smiled.
Saint Joseph was also chosen the patron saint of Italy. One year, I think in the Middle Ages, there was a terrible drought in the country and people fervently prayed to him to save their crops and restore the virtually empty water wells. In an almost-mystical response to the ardent pleas of the devout peasants, massive rain showers soaked the parched land. Like Saint Joseph, Saint Patrick became the patron saint of Ireland when he was said to have driven out all the snakes in the country.
Grandma Theresa taught me to always wear red on Saint Joseph’s Day. Italians wear red on that feast day in the similar religious-based tradition that the Irish wear green on Saint Patrick’s Day!
There is another wonderful custom that my Grandmother faithfully practiced and passed down to me: If you pray to Saint Joseph and he answers your prayers, you must thank him by preparing a feast in his honor and asking others to eat from a table we call a “Saint Joseph’s Table”.
Traditionally, the grateful petitioner then opened their front door (only on the Feast Day?) and hung out a red flag so that anyone could enter their home and eat at the Table until they were satisfied. For obvious reasons, at 7244 S. Prairie Avenue, only invited guests were able to dine at the Saint Joseph’s Table.
This Feast Day was the one time my family members could invite acquaintances outside the family to come and eat. There were no chairs placed at the table. Diners would take a plate, fill it and, after eating, put the plate in the kitchen and leave. Then Grandma, Aunt Maffy and I would wash the dishes and place them back on the table for the next guests.
“What are we celebrating this year, Grandmacita?” I asked her one year.
“We are celebrating that your Uncle Al is getting stronger and healthier every day,“ she replied solemnly. “I have said nine novenas for him”, she added.
The nine novenas leading up to Saint Joseph’s Day is another custom. A novena is a special prayer that you would say over and over during the day for nine successive days. Each day you said a different prayer.
I prefer to think of myself as spiritual rather than religious. But I do believe in the power of prayer, so I offer you here the prayer to St. Joseph that my Grandma Capone claimed brought miracles.
O St. Joseph, whose protection is so great, so strong, so prompt before the Throne of God, I place in you all my interests and desires. O St. Joseph, do assist me by your powerful intercession and obtain for me from your Divine Son all spiritual blessings through Jesus Christ, Our Lord, so that, having engaged here below your Heavenly power, I may offer my Thanksgiving and Homage to the most Loving of Fathers. O St. Joseph, I never weary contemplating you and Jesus asleep in your arms. I dare not approach while He reposes near your heart. Press him in my name and kiss His fine Head for me, and ask Him to return the Kiss when I draw my dying breath. St. Joseph, Patron of departing souls, pray for us. Amen