The most well-known saint in March is Patrick, but Italian families also celebrate St. Joseph’s Day on March 19. This celebration of Mary’s husband has deep roots in Italy and particularly in Sicily, where medieval residents implored the saint to end a drought. The Sicilian populace promised to honor him with a feast day every year thereafter, so it remains an especially important Sicilian tradition.
St. Joseph’s Day (la festa di San Giuseppe) is an important tradition in my family. Because the Feast of St. Joseph falls during Lent, historically a time for meatless meals, the celebratory dinner usually features plenty of seafood. Joseph was a carpenter, so many traditional St. Joseph’s Day dishes include bread crumbs that represent the sawdust of his profession. Shrimp oreganata with its seasoned bread crumbs is a perfect fit for a St. Joseph’s Day entree.
Desserts are also special on St. Joseph’s day because he’s the patron saint of bakers. San Guiseppe is the day for zeppole. Cream puffs, cakes and other pastries also honor the saint while wrapping up a festive celebration in the sweetest way.
Depending on where you visit, some celebrations of the saint’s day can be elaborate. New Orleans celebrates with a parade and food-laden St. Joseph’s Day altars, while in Chicago and New York, you’ll see many people wearing red to honor St. Joseph. Just as green is St. Patrick’s color, red honors St. Joseph and southern Italian heritage. In Sicily, beans are a must for St. Joseph’s Day. The first food the hungry Sicilians had after their historic drought ended was a bumper crop of fava beans, so beans are a part of any Sicilian observation of the feast day.
The city of San Juan Capistrano commemorates the day for a different reason: it’s the day the swallows return to the Mission of San Juan Capistrano. Named for an Italian priest, the mission is the oldest building in California.
You don’t have to be Italian to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day any more than you need to be Irish to embrace St. Patrick’s Day. Start with the stuffed mushrooms, have a bowl of hot pasta e fagiole loaded with beans, enjoy a platter of spaghetti pescatore and finish with a luscious sweet treat to be part of a uniquely Italian celebration.
Carlo, Wali and all your friends at Carlino’s