The Feast of St. Joseph, March 19, is commemorated and celebrated in Italy in general, and Sicily in particular, where St. Joseph has been long-regarded as the island’s patron saint. It is there, among Sicilians, that the tradition of the “Tavola di San Giuseppe” or “St. Joseph’s Table” has its origins.
During a time of severe drought and famine, no rain fell on Medieval Sicily. Food crops for both people and livestock withered and died. The people prayed to St. Joseph for help. When the clouds opened, the desperately-needed rain poured down, and there was much rejoicing. After the harvest, to show their gratitude, the people prepared a table with special foods to honor St. Joseph and to share with the poor. After thanking and honoring the saint, they distributed the food to the less fortunate.
In Sicily, Italy and other areas of the world with Italian populations, this celebration became an annual tradition. Each year, wealthy families prepared huge buffets. The less fortunate people of the community, especially the homeless and sick, were invited, and all the remaining food and proceeds were given to the poor.
The tradition has remained throughout Italy, and is also prevalent in Poland, Malta, Spain, the Philippines, and, with the influx of Sicilian immigrants to the U.S., here in our own country.
March 19 is also Father’s Day in Italy — which isn’t at all surprising, as St. Joseph was the foster father of Jesus. This celebration is a symbolic “thank you” and a renewal of the Sicilian people’s devotion to St. Joseph.
As part of their Year of St. Joseph celebrations, St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland celebrated the Solemnity of the saint on March 19 with their very first St. Joseph’s Table. The four-tiered table was adorned with flowers, candles, fruit, nuts, beans, pasta and a wide variety of breads and pastries. The display was crowned with a beautiful statue of St. Joseph.
Having a traditional feast where everyone could eat from the table would have been ideal. Instead, due to COVID precautions, the main table was for display only, and a side table with individually wrapped treats to take home was enjoyed by the parishioners. Masked and socially-distanced visitors helped themselves to a variety of snacks, small breads, biscotti and zeppole, Italian pastries that are traditionally consumed during St. Joseph Day feasts.
One parishioner shared about her visit to the celebration. “I stopped in with my 3 year old (and 8 month old) grandkids today and we heard a wonderful story about famine, feast and prayer. Thank you for making her day and mine. The treats were a big hit, too.”
In the spirit of the tradition of the St. Joseph Table, all remaining food was donated to the Silence of Mary Home.
(Jennifer Burke is a member of St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland.)
(Photos courtesy of Adalene Noll, St. Theresa Parish in New Cumberland.)
By Jennifer Burke, Special to The Witness