Amidst all of the Saint Patrick’s Day celebration, it can be easy to forget that Catholics celebrate another feast day this week: the feast of Saint Joseph. Even though it connects more closely to our institution, I’m used to people overlooking it. Growing up in the Midwest, I was surrounded by people of Irish descent. Each Saint Patrick’s Day, it seemed like everybody in Kansas City claimed heritage in the Emerald Isle. Few of my friends even knew that Saint Joseph’s Day—a feast celebrated in Sicilian and Italian communities—came two days later.
The contemporary celebration of Saint Joseph’s day dates back to the middle ages, when the father of Jesus is said to have interceded during a severe famine in Sicily, bringing rains to water the ailing crops. Not surprisingly, then, many of the traditions of the day revolve around food. The pinnacle of the celebration is the Saint Joseph’s table, an expansive spread of breads, pasta, fish dishes (naturally, as it falls during Lent), and sweets (especially zeppoli and sfinge). It is a visible and edible celebration of God’s blessings.
Sometimes, St. Joseph’s tables are set up privately in homes. But, more often, they are public events. A cross- or altar-shaped table is set up in the church basement or town hall and everyone brings dishes to add to the feast. All are invited to partake—no matter who you are—and frequently part of the food is set aside for those who don’t have enough to eat.
At its core, then, the celebration of Saint Joseph’s day is all about gratitude for the many things God provides. But this gratitude cannot end with ourselves. Rather, it must be turned around into something for others, lest it slide into self-absorption. God has generously blessed us. So we, too, must become blessings for the world.
Jim Caccamo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Chair
Theology and Religious Studies