Or, Let’s Show Them How to do a Feast Day Right
When I was growing up March 19th was always a big deal. I never understood however why it wasn’t a day off from school since it required hours of work to get ready for the food feast that was coming but my Mom took care of most of the cooking when I was younger so I just had to show up at the dinner table.
March 19th is the day Sicilians celebrate the Feast Day of St. Joseph and how better to do this than with a St. Joseph’s Table. Because March 19th happens during lent this is a meatless feast but some of the best foods are prepared this day; baked and breaded eggplant, stuffed zucchini, egg with asparagus frittata, stuffed artichokes, fava bean soup, and bread, lots of special and sometimes sweet breads to eat with your meal.
Mostly it’s the desserts we can’t wait for. Sfingi’s filled with custard, fravioli’s filled with honey sweetened rigotta, pignolatta’s smothered in honey, and more. Not only did I learn to love them all I learned to make them all as well. Pure heaven.
Pignolatta; small balls of dough fried and then smothered in honey. Yum! © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
A little background perhaps is needed. St. Joseph was the earthly father of Jesus Christ. His feast day, and birthday, is March 19th. St. Joseph is the patron saint of workers; he is the universal protector of the Catholic Church and is the patron saint of Canada – China and Mexico. March 19th is also celebrated as Father’s Day in countries such as Poland, Spain and Italy – and in some countries St. Joseph’s Day is a National Holiday.
During the Middle Ages there was a drought in Sicily and the people feared a famine would come. They prayed to St. Joseph to intercede on their behalf and stop the famine. 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. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter.
Breaded and baked eggplant. One of my favorite dishes. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
Most times our ‘table’ was the sight of no less than 50 people coming over to feast together. Since I was born and raised in Buffalo, NY and I had a very large Italian American family base we always had a lot of people over to celebrate this day with us and it was one of those special days I always looked forward to.
The funny part was that I was told growing up that Sicilians were the only group who celebrated this day with a feast. Now as I travel the world I have come to learn that this is not the case and many cultures and other ethnic groups celebrate this feast day as well. For instance, here in Spain the famous Cathedral Sagrada Familia was actually first designed and created as a tribute to St. Joseph. It evolved during Anton Gaudi’s time to become more than this but the original plans were based as a tribute to Jesus’s earthly father.
As time has gone on my parents have moved away from Buffalo and my folks go to a St. Joseph’s Table held every year at a local church in downtown Los Angeles. The table is packed with people who come to participate in an Italian feast, some who know what day it is and others who just know that the Italian church is having an awesome dinner and they want to eat well this day.
I love to travel. What I love more is having common ground with people. I also love sharing my knowledge with others where I know what makes March 19th so special. I have been able to tell our hosts here in Spain about St. Joseph’s Day in the US and they are surprised that such a tradition exists; it is something they were not aware of; that Italian Americans celebrate this day as they do. They were impressed.
Sfingi – dumplings that are usually filled with cream and dusted with powdered sugar. © Photo by Florence Ricchiazzi Lince
It’s like I’ve always said; sit different people from different cultures around a dining room table and the differences between us seem to disappear. We really have more in common with each other than people realize. Now if only our world leaders would sit around a dining room table and talk; maybe the world wouldn’t be filled with so much distrust and hate. At least that’s my prayer, and hope, for the New Year on this March 19th. That and may your tables be filled with good and plentiful food all year.
Happy St. Joseph’s Day.
Side Note: St. Joseph’s Day is also the day when the swallows traditionally return to Mission San Juan Capistrano after having flown south for the winter.