St. Joseph's Day is a big Feast for Italians because in the Middle Ages, God, through St. Joseph's intercessions, saved Sicilians from a very serious drought. So in his honor, the custom is for all to wear red, in the same way that green is worn on St. Patrick's Day.
Though we may not able to actively observe many St. Joseph's traditions now (including Mass and an abundant feast) due to the limitations of a pandemic quarantine, it's important to remember the traditions and the significance of this day and to pray to St. Joseph.
Today, after Mass (at least in parishes with large Italian populations), a big altar ("la tavola di San Giuse" or "St. Joseph's Table") is laden with food contributed by everyone (note that all these St. Joseph celebrations might take place on the nearest, most convenient weekend). Different Italian regions celebrate this day differently, but all involve special meatless foods: minestrone, pasta with breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs symbolize the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph's floor), seafood, Sfinge di San Giuseppe, and, always, fava beans, which are considered "lucky" because during the drought, the fava thrived while other crops failed (recipes below).
The table -- which is always blessed by a priest -- will be in three tiers, symbolizing the Most Holy Trinity. The top tier will hold a statue of St. Joseph surrounded by flowers and greenery. The other tiers might hold, in addition to the food: flowers (especially lilies); candles; figurines and symbolic breads and pastries shaped like a monstrance, chalices, fishes, doves, baskets, St. Joseph's staff, lilies, the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts, carpentry tools, etc.; 12 fishes symbolizing the 12 Apostles; wine symbolizing the miracle at Cana; pineapple symbolizing hospitality; lemons for "luck"; bread and wine (symbolizing the Last Supper); and pictures of the dead. There will also be a basket in which the faithful place prayer petitions.
The cry "Viva la tavola di San Giuse!" begins the feasting and is heard throughout the day. When the eating is done, the St. Joseph's altar is smashed, and then three children dressed as the Holy Family will knock on three doors, asking for shelter. They will be refused at the first two, and welcomed at the third, in memory of the Holy Family's seeking of hospitality just before Christ was born. This re-enactment is called "Tupa Tupa," meaning "Knock Knock."
The day ends with each participant taking home a bag that might be filled with bread, fruit, pastries, cookies, a medal of St. Joseph, a Holy Card and/or a blessed fava bean. Keep your "lucky bean," and let it remind you to pray to St. Joseph.
As a child, I remember going with my father to homes in the Italian-American neighborhood where I grew up -- homes where Italian women prepared a St. Joseph's Table in their living and/or dining rooms. These huge tables were covered with all of the homemade foods associated with this day. The doors to the homes were left open and anyone could come in and partake of the feast. It was a beautiful custom signifying enduring faith, gratitude, neighborliness and generosity!
PRAYER TO ST. JOSEPH IN TIME TO DISTRESS
We come to you, O blessed Joseph, in our sore distress. Having sought the aid of your most blessed spouse, we now confidently implore thy assistance also.
We humbly beg that, mindful of the dutiful affection that bound you to the immaculate Virgin Mother of God, and of the fatherly love with which you cherish the Child Jesus, you will lovingly watch over the heritage that Jesus Christ purchased with His blood, and by your powerful intercession help us in our urgent need.
Most powerful guardian of the Holy Family, protect the chosen race of Jesus Christ; drive far from us, most loving father, every pest of error and corrupting sin. From your place in heaven, most powerful protector, graciously come to our aid in this conflict with the power of darkness, and as of old you delivered the Child Jesus from supreme peril of life, so now defend the holy Church of God from the snares of her enemies and from all adversity.
Have each of us always in your keeping, that, following your example, and borne up by your strength, we may be able to live holily, die happily, and so enter the everlasting bliss of heaven.
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