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March 19! Happy St. Joseph's Day! (But What Exactly IS St. Joseph's Day?)

Millions of Americans will don green hats and feast on corned beef, cabbage and green beer to celebrate St. Patrick's Day on March 17, but, two days later, there is another reason to celebrate. March 19 is St. Joseph's Day, the less-known "cousin" to St. Patty's Day.

st joseph

An elaborate St. Joseph's Table.

St. Joseph's Day, or the Feast of St. Joseph, came about in medieval Sicily. During a bad drought and famine, Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph, who was patron of workers and the guardian of family, for help, and the famine ended.

To give thanks for ending the famine, a yearly feast -- consisting of pasta, bread, egg dishes, fish, vegetables and desserts -- is now prepared in his honor. St. Joseph's Tables, as the feast is referred to, can be found in churches, restaurants, homes, and banquet halls across the country.

In Italy, St. Joseph's Day is also meant to honor all fathers, as, according to the Christian Bible, St. Joseph was the husband of Mary and the earthy father of Jesus, and March 19 is his birthday.

"It's a time of getting together, kind of like Thanksgiving," says Antonino Pollaro, president of the St. Joseph Society in Lodi, N.J. in USA Weekend.

What might you find on a traditional St. Joseph's Table?

  • St. Joseph's pasta, which is spaghetti with a meatless red sauce, anchovies or sardines, topped with breadcrumbs. The breadcrumbs represent sawdust, a tie to the "working man." (All of the dishes are made without meat because the holiday falls during Lent, when Catholics do not eat meat.)

  • Elaborate loaves of bread shaped like St. Joseph's staff.

  • Breaded, fried vegetables, particularly cardoon (aka artichoke thistle), and stuffed artichokes.

  • Zeppole, a cherry-topped cream puff, and sfinci (fried dough).

  • Dried fava beans. These aren't eaten, but rather given away as a sign of good luck because they were one of the foods that made it through the famine in Sicily.

During the feast, people in need, such as orphans, the elderly or the homeless, are often invited to share the food and celebration. Any leftover food is traditionally given away or sold, with the profits donated to help the poor.


Zeppole, puff-pastry filled with ricotta cheese, vanilla cream or chocolate, is one of the most popular St. Joseph's Day treats. Look for them at Italian bakeries during the month of March.

In the United States, red is the color that signifies St. Joseph's Day (the reason for this is not known, though it may simply be to rival the green worn on St. Patrick's Day). In areas with European ancestry, you may even find red beer, red flowers and red bread being sold to commemorate the day.

If you're looking for a St. Joseph's Day celebration, one of the largest every year takes place in New Orleans, where there is an elaborate St. Joseph's Day Parade, complete with food, dancing and fava beans. If you're interested in attending, you'll have to wait until next year; this year's parade was early and took place on March 8.

Though typically a Roman Catholic tradition, the generous spirit of St. Joseph's Day appeals to many who want to take time to give thanks, and help those who are less fortunate. And as one Czech proverb says:

"If it is nice on St. Joseph's Day, it will usually be a good year."

Recommended Reading

The 6 Healthiest Staple Foods in Italian Cuisine

The Personal Health & Economic Benefits of Donating Your Time to a Cause

Sources March 2, 2008 March 6, 2008

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