St. Joseph’s Day

St. Joseph’s Day, also known as the Feast of Saint Joseph, is the feast day for St. Joseph – which falls on March 19th each year. Saint Joseph is believed by Christians to have been the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the step-father of Jesus Christ.  In Poland and Canada, it is a Patronal Feast Day and is Father’s Day in some Catholic countries such as Italy and Spain. In Switzerland, it is a public holiday.

History of St. Joseph’s Day

On some Western calendars, St. Joseph’s Day was clearly marked on March 19th by the 10th century. By the late 15th century, the custom was adopted by Rome. In 1570, Pope St. Pius V extended its use to the entire Roman Rite. From the late 19th century through the middle of the 20th century, a feast day had been established to honor St. Joseph as the spouse of the Virgin Mary. It was originally celebrated on the 3rd Sunday after Easter but was eventually moved to the Wednesday before and re-titled The Solemnity of Saint Joseph. However, this celebration was abolished by Pope Pius XII in 1955.

St. Joseph’s Day Customs & Traditions

St. Joseph’s Day is celebrated all over the world. In Sicily, participants usually wear red and build what is known as “St. Joseph’s Table.” This table is often decorated with flowers and candles, and people place wine and foods on it that are considered lucky. Some of these lucky foods include fava beans, lemons, and foods that contain sawdust. All of these foods have symbolic meanings. Fava beans were the only things that survived a drought during the Middle Ages in Italy – which is why it is considered lucky. Breadcrumbs are worked into the recipes of the dishes because St. Joseph was a carpenter and the breadcrumbs represent sawdust. Some people place fish and seafood on the altar as well. However, what is not placed on St. Joseph’s Table is any dish which contains meat. That’s because this holiday occurs during Lent.

In Sicily, it is also believed that if a woman manages to sneak a lemon off of St. Joseph’s Table on this day, then she have better luck finding a husband. It is also customary for people to wear red on this day and to indulge themselves with doughnuts and crème puffs. In Italy, Spain and Portugal, St. Joseph’s Day is Father’s Day.

Since New Orleans, Louisiana in the United States was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 1800s and has a large Sicilian population, this holiday is celebrated by the whole city. On St. Joseph’s Day. St. Joseph’s Tables are built both for the public and by private individuals. These altars are then filled with a variety of different food – just like the celebrations in Sicily – however, these foods usually have somewhat of a Cajun twist to them. Afterward, all of the food is then usually donated to the poor. New Orleans also has a variety of parades and marching bands performing on the streets during this day.

In Switzerland, it is a public holiday in some of the cantons. The cantons which observe this day include Valais, Schwyz, Uri, Ticino, and Nidwalden. On these days, banks and schools are usually closed but many businesses may still be open. While this holiday was traditionally popular in Switzerland, it has begun to lose much of that popularity over the last several years and fewer people are observing it in this country.

St. Joseph’s Day is also traditionally celebrated in many other American communities, particularly those who have large Italian populations. This includes cities such as New York, Syracuse, Buffalo, Jersey City, Chicago, Gloucester, Providence, Kansas City and St. Louis. In Providence, some people will wear red clothing on this day – much in the same way that people will wear green on St. Patrick’s Day.

In parts of New England and the Midwest, American with Polish ancestry will often celebrate this holiday as an imieniny. Known as Dzien Swietego Jozefa, Polish-American parishes will hold St. Joseph’s Tables in solidarity with the Italian parishes. Since this holiday falls on Lent, no meat is served on these altars.

There is no specific location where this holiday is celebrated.