Saint Joseph's Day
Saint Joseph's Day, March 19, the Feast of St. Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the father (the word used in the Gospels) or the step-father (in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox thought) of Jesus of Nazareth/Jesus Christ. It has the rank of a solemnity in the Roman Catholic Church; Catholics who follow the Missal of 1962 celebrate it as a first class feast. Previous to 1962 it was celebrated as a feast of the rank of double of the first class. It is a feast or commemoration in the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and a feast or festival in the Lutheran Church. Saint Joseph's Day is the Patronal Feast day for Poland as well as for Canada, persons named Joseph, Josephine, etc., for religious institutes, schools and parishes bearing his name, and for carpenters. It is also Father's Day in some Catholic countries, mainly Spain, Portugal, and Italy.
March 19 was dedicated to Saint Joseph in several Western calendars by the tenth century, and this custom was established in Rome by 1479. Pope St. Pius V extended its use to the entire Roman Rite by his Apostolic Constitution Quo Primum (July 14, 1570). Since 1969, Episcopal Conferences may, if they wish, transfer it to a date outside Lent.
Between 1870 and 1955, a feast was celebrated in honor of St. Joseph as Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church, the latter title having been given to him by Pope Pius IX. Originally celebrated on the third Sunday after Easter with an octave, after Divino Afflatu of St. Pius X (see Reform of the Roman Breviary by Pope Pius X), it was moved to the preceding Wednesday. The feast was also retitled The Solemnity of Saint Joseph. This celebration and its accompanying octave was abolished during the modernisation and simplification of rubrics under Pope Pius XII in 1955. It is still maintained by Catholics who follow the missals of before then. As the traditional holiday of the Apostles St. Philip and James, May 1, had faded from the memory of most Catholics by the mid-twentieth century, that of Joseph the Worker was created in order to coincide with the celebration of international Labour Day (May Day) in many countries. The feast of St. Philip and James, which had been celebrated on that date since the sixth century, was moved from its traditional place (to May 11) to make room for St. Joseph the Worker. In the new calendar published in 1969, the feast, which at one time occupied the highest possible rank in the Church calendar, was reduced to an optional Memorial, the lowest rank for a saint's day.
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March 19 always falls during Lent, and traditionally it is a day of abstinence. This explains the custom of St. Joseph tables being covered with meatless dishes.
If the feast day falls on a Sunday other than Palm Sunday, it is observed on the next available day, usually Monday, March 20, unless another solemnity (e.g., a church's patronal saint) falls on that day. Since 2008, if St Joseph's Day falls during Holy Week, it is moved to the closest possible day before 19 March, usually the Saturday before Holy Week. This change was announced by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Notitiae March–April, 2006 (475-476, page 96) in order to avoid occurrences of the feasts of St. Joseph and the Annunciation both being moved to just after the Easter octave. This decision does not apply to those using the 1962 Missal according to the provisions of Summorum Pontificum; when that missal is used, its particular rubrics must be observed.
In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron saint, and in many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph ("San Giuseppe" in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. 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 altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph's Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Neapolitan pastry known as a zeppola (created in 1840 by Don Pasquale Pinatauro in Napoli) on St. Joseph's Day.
Upon a typical St. Joseph's Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.
On the Sicilian island of Lipari, the St. Joseph legend is modified somewhat, and says that sailors returning from the mainland encountered a fierce storm that threatened to sink their boat. They prayed to St. Joseph for deliverance, and when they were saved, they swore to honor the saint each year on his feast day. The Liparian ritual is somewhat changed, in that meat is allowed at the feast.
Some villages like Avola used to burn wood and logs in squares on the day before St. Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. In Belmonte Mezzagno this is currently still performed every year, while people ritually shouts invocations to the Saint in local Sicilian language. This is called "A Vampa di San Giuseppe" (the Saint Joseph's bonfire).
Spectacular celebrations are also held in Bagheria. The Saint is even celebrated twice a year, the second time being held especially for people from Bagheria who come back for summer vacation from other parts of Italy or abroad.
In Italy March 19 is also Father's Day.
This is one of the public holidays in Malta, known as Jum San Ġużepp. People celebrate mass in the morning, and in the afternoon go for a picnic. It is a liturgical feast in particular Sunday in summer. However, the city of Rabat celebrates the traditional Maltese feast on the 19th of March, where in the evening a procession is also held with the statue of St Joseph. On this day also the city of Żejtun celebrates the day, known as Jum il-Kunsill (Zejtun Council's Day), till 2013 was known as Jum iż-Żejtun (Zejtun's Day). During this day a prominent person from Żejtun is given the Żejtun Honour (Ġieħ iż-Żejtun). In the past years the Żejtun Parish Church has celebrated these feast days with a procession with the statue of Saint Joseph.
In the Philippines, many families keep a tradition in which an old man, a young lady, and a small boy are chosen from among the poor and are dressed up as St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the child Jesus, respectively. They are then seated around a table set with the family's best silverware and china, and served a variety of courses, sometimes being literally spoon-fed by the senior members of the family, while the Novena to St. Joseph is recited at a nearby temporary altar.
United States of America
In New Orleans, Louisiana, which was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 19th century, the Feast of St. Joseph is a city-wide event. Both public and private St. Joseph's altars are traditionally built. The altars are usually open to any visitor who wishes to pay homage. The food is generally distributed to charity after the altar is dismantled.
There are also parades in honor of St. Joseph and the Italian population of New Orleans which are similar to the many marching clubs and truck parades of Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day. Tradition in New Orleans also holds that by burying a small statue of St. Joseph upside down in the front yard of a house, that house will sell more promptly. In addition to the above traditions, some groups of Mardi Gras Indians stage their last procession of the season on the Sunday nearest to St. Joseph's Day otherwise known as "Super Sunday," after which their costumes are dismantled.
Saint Joseph's Day is also celebrated in other American communities with high proportions of Italians such as New York City; Utica/Rome, NY, Syracuse, NY, Buffalo, NY, Hoboken, NJ, Jersey City, NJ; Kansas City, MO; and Chicago; Gloucester, Mass.; and Providence, Rhode Island, where observance (which takes place just after Saint Patrick's Day) often is expressed through "the wearing of the red", i.e., wearing red clothing or accessories similar to the wearing of green on Saint Patrick's Day. St. Joseph's Day tables may also be found in Rockford and Elmwood Park, Illinois.
Americans of Polish ancestry, especially those in the Midwest and New England, who have the name Joseph celebrate Saint Joseph's Day (Dzien Swietego Jozefa) as an imieniny. As a symbol of ethnic pride, and in solidarity with their Italian counterparts, Polish Catholic parishes often hold Saint Joseph's Day feasts known as Saint Joseph's Tables or Saint Joseph's altars, and display statues and holy cards of Saint Joseph. As the day falls during Lent, these are meatless feasts.
- Roman Missal
- The Prayerbook Society of Canada
- Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 89
- Latin original of Divino Afflatu; English translation
- Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana 1969), p. 92
- St. Joseph's Day Tradition
- Non-Stop New York's Italianissimo: La Festa di San Giuseppe NYC-Style
- St. Joseph's Day Altars
- New Orleans online
- St. Joseph's Day celebration sets the table for sharing, Chicago Sun-Times
- Pisano, Maryanne, "St. Joseph’s Day feast table raises money for charity", Sun Times, March 18, 2013
- "Saint Joseph's Day And The Return Of The Swallows Celebration", Mission of San Juan Capistrano
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