Wednesday, March 19, 2008

La Festa di San Giuseppe

Today is St. Joseph's feast day - a day when Italians and Italian-Americans honor St. Joseph (the patron saint of the family) with prayer, devotion and tables adorned with simple (but plentiful) food. Coming as it does during Lent, St. Joseph's Day offers a respite from fasting. So, it's OK today to eat the traditional St. Joseph's dessert - zeppole. Zeppole (pictured) is a kind of pastry ravioli that is filled with vanilla pudding, whipped cream, or sweet cheese.
In New Orleans 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. 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). Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter.
As a youngster I remember visiting homes with my father where St. Joseph alters were set up with huge tables of food. The door to each home was unlocked and anyone could come in to honor St. Joseph and enjoy the food. No one was turned away.
Devotion to St. Joseph remains a hallmark of the Italian-American community -- something that many of use still keep in our hearts.

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