Saint Joseph's Day
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|Feast of Saint Joseph|
Saint Joseph with the Infant Jesus by Guido Reni, c 1635
|Observed by||Catholic Church
|Celebrations||Carrying blessed fava beans, wearing red-coloured clothing, assembling home altars dedicated to Saint Joseph, attending a Saint Joseph's Day parade|
|Observances||Church attendance at Mass or Divine Service|
Saint Joseph's Day, March 19, the Feast of Saint Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the foster-father of 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 10th century, and this custom was established in Rome by 1479. Pope 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, an additional feast was celebrated in honor of Saint 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 Saint 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.
At the same time, Pope Pius XII established an additional Feast of "St. Joseph the Worker", to be celebrated on 1 May, in order to coincide with the celebration of International Workers' Day (May Day) in many countries. Until this time, 1 May had been the Feast of the Apostles Saint Philip and James, but that Feast was then moved to 11 May (and again to May 3, in 1969). In the new calendar published in 1969, the Feast of Saint Joseph The Worker, 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.
Popular customs among Christians of various liturgical traditions observing Saint Joseph's Day are attending Mass or the Divine Service, wearing red-coloured clothing, carrying dried fava beans that have been blessed, and assembling home altars dedicated to Saint Joseph.
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March 19 always falls during Lent, and traditionally it is a day of abstinence. This explains the custom of Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron saint, and in many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to Saint 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 Saint Joseph's Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a Saint 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 Saint Joseph's Day. Maccu di San Giuseppe is a traditional Sicilian dish that consists of various ingredients and maccu that is prepared on this day. Maccu is a foodstuff and soup that dates to ancient times which is prepared with fava beans as a primary ingredient.
Upon a typical Saint 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 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 Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. In Belmonte Mezzagno this is currently still performed every year, while people ritually shout 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. Joseph 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.
In Malta, the set date for the celebration of Saint Joseph is March 19, but can be moved if necessary to fit into the Lent and Easter season. This has been a day of remembrance in Malta since the 10th century A.D.. Most businesses shut down for this day for all the celebrations that occur. The main celebrations are held in Mdina, which is the “old capital” of Malta in the suburbs of the city of Rabat. There are three main events that occur for this day. One of them being special masses in honor of Saint Joseph. Then it follows with colorful processions with music bands in the streets and fireworks at night. The main procession takes place in the evening with the statue of St. Joseph being carried to the church of Saint Mary of Jesus. The statue represents a high level of workmanship for the figure Joseph had in Jesus' life. Also, 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 that occurs on a Sunday in summer. However, the city of Rabat celebrates the traditional Maltese feast where in the evening a procession is also held with the statue of Saint 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 Spain, Saint Joseph’s Day is their version of Father’s Day which is called El Dia del Padre. In some parts of Spain it is celebrated as Falles. They feel that St. Joseph is a good example of what a father figure should be like which is why they connect these two days. Since Spain does correlate this day with Father’s Day, it is tradition for children to cook their fathers breakfast or even give small gifts. It is a “meatless affair” because it occurs during the lent season. Some symbols to represent this day include, Jesus holding carpenter tools, baby Jesus or a staff with lilies. A few things to do on this day to celebrate are attending a special church service, visit different cathedrals, join Valencia’s Falla Festival, and explore the city, museums and art galleries. The Falla Festival runs for 5 days and ends on March 19 in remembrance of Saint Joseph.
In Poland, it is necessary to celebrate "Imienien" or Namesday, the feast day of one's patron saint; celebrating Saint Joseph's Day is a part of this. Polish families celebrate this day with a Saint Joseph's table in their house that is decorated with red and white for Poland and Saint Joseph. These tables set up in their house include holy cards and candles all around and meatless food in which they call a "festive fast" because it is Lent season. To represent and honor Saint Joseph, Poland has hymns they made. A few of the hymns are Duszo moja, O Jozefie Ukochany, and Szczesliwy, Kto Sobie Patrona.
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 Saint 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 Saint 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 Saint Joseph is a citywide event. Both public and private Saint 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 Saint Joseph and the Italian population of New Orleans which are similar to the many marching clubs and truck parades of Mardi Gras and Saint Patrick's Day. Tradition in New Orleans also holds that by burying a small statue of Saint 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 Saint 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, Hawthorne, NJ, 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. Saint 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.
- 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
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