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Saint Joseph’s Table: A Celebration for the Feast Day of Saint Joseph March 19th

The role of Saint Joseph as foster father of Jesus is not documented in the Bible but he is honored by all Catholics for the role he played in protecting the Holy Family from conception in what would have been trying circumstances. One of the ways in which his Feast Day is celebrated is the “Saint Joseph’s Table” or sometimes called the “Saint Joseph’s Altar”.

This tradition began in Sicily but is observed in churches throughout the world dedicated to Saint Joseph. Saint Joseph is one of the most beloved saints, and according to tradition, when a severe drought threatened Sicily the local inhabitants invoked the name of Saint Joseph and made a vow that if it would rain they would honor him. The drought ended and they were able to grow their crops once again. When the harvest came they prepared a feast in honor of Saint Joseph. As time went on, the wealthy families invited the less fortunate to join them in the feast. Thus the tradition began and continues today throughout the world.

Today in parishes throughout the world you will see Saint Joseph Altars put on display in remembrance of the miracle. But it is more than just a display, it is often a religious story told through a play In addition to the altars in many homes, there is often a Saint Joseph’s table in the main piazza of the town. These are laden with food donated from all in the town.

The tables (usually a three-tiered display) representing the Holy Trinity, with a statue of St. Joseph on the top tier. A smaller table, set for the Holy Family, is placed at front. These tables are filled with displays of food, flowers, candles and ‘zepolle’ [Italian donuts]. Since St. Joseph’s feast falls during Lent, the food is traditionally meatless.

Typically in the small villages of Sicily an older man, a young woman and a child are seated at the head table of the feast. These three represent the Holy Family and are accompanied by twelve young men or boys who represent the twelve apostles. The feast lasts throughout the day and people come and go all day long. The dishes prepared represent a Biblical theme. The breads are in the shape of such things as a carpenter’s tool, a sandal, a cross, etc. And, of course, local wine is present as well. Another tradition is the special deserts prepared for this feast, often decorated with almonds. Almonds are one of the crops grown in this part of the world and are of special significance to Christians, Jews and Muslims alike.

There is one special treat for desert called a Saint Joseph’s Sfinge (a large cream puff filled with ricota cheese and topped with cherries).

Father’s Day is celebrated in the U.S. and many other countries in June, while in Italy the Feast of Saint Joseph is also when father’s day is celebrated. Rather fitting, we think.

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