Wednesday, March 16, 2011

St. Joseph's Day altars

When I was in Catholic school, St. Joseph's Day was a big event. Our pastor's patron saint was Joseph, so the school always put together a special show in his honor. Each class would perform a song, skit, poem or prayer about St. Joseph.  It was held on the stage in our school's gym.  Besides our pastor, the non-teaching nuns in the parish's convent were invited, as were the parents.  After the morning performance, he would hand out little treats to the school children and we were given the rest of the day off.  (The best treat of all for a school child!)

In high school, my family visited the Mission at San Juan Capistrano in Southern California, and we learned about the miracle the returning swallows.  Each year, swallows would return in droves to San Juan Capistrano on March 19.  The fact that they all reappear on March 19 was amazing, since birds obviously don't carry calendars!

For these two reasons, the feast of St. Joseph has always held a special place in my heart. Last year, I learned about another tradition associated with this holiday:  St. Joseph's altars.

I understand that this tradition originates in Sicily, although my husband --whose heritage is half Sicilian and half Italian--was not familiar with it. (Sadly, I guess it's one of the customs his family left back in the old country so they could become more Americanized!) I guess it began in the Middle Ages. According to the,  Sicily was suffering a drought and all of the crops were drying up and dying in the fields. The Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph, asking him to speak with God about bringing rain to the country. On March 19 (the feast of St. Joseph) it began to rain.  To thank St. Joseph for his help, the people filled a table with all of the different foods they had harvested, then donated those foods to the poor and hungry.

Over time, the tradition become more elaborate and the "St. Joseph tables" began including a variety of symbolic foods, including a bottle of wine to represent the Miracle at Cana, 12 fish to represent the apostles and bread shaped like chalices or crosses.

You can learn more about St. Joseph's altars by visiting the Virtual St. Joseph's Altar created by Evann Duplantier. Evann's ingenuous site also allows you to make virtual offerings to the table and to submit prayer requests for living or decreased family and friends. This year, my daughter and I will be making the 3D color, cut and paste altar which she has created and made available as a .pdf download from her website.  I'll try to post a photo of it after it's done.  In the meantime, check out Evann's Virtual St. Joseph's Altar!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for the shout out, Cheryl! I can't wait to see your altars.