Loosely, it’s St. Patrick’s Day for Italians.
St. Joseph’s Day is March 19, just two days after St. Patrick’s Day. It is celebrated by not only Italians but other Catholic European countries such as Spain and Portugal. It is also Father’s Day in these countries…Joseph was Jesus’ “father”, you know . The day is probably most celebrated in Sicily though, where St. Joseph (or San Giuseppe in Italian) is the region’s patron saint. Legend has it that prayers to St. Joseph ended a drought and great famine in Sicily, so it is tradition to honor him with a huge feast.
Traditional St. Joseph Day feasts start with an elaborate altar of fine linens, flowers, and an ornate centerpiece. There is always a large number of breads and pastries in a variety of creative shapes. Cream-filled doughnuts known as zeppole are the most traditional of the pastries. Because the day always falls during lent, it is a meatless feast, so there is seafood. While there is usually a wide variety of fruits and vegetables, the fava bean must always be present. In Sicily, the fava bean is a sign of good luck. During the great famine, fava beans were the only vegetable that was in abundance, and for many, it was all there was to eat.
I have noticed that the number of people around me who celebrate St. Joseph’s Day is much smaller than when I was young. You could always tell who observed the day by who was wearing red, the official color of the holiday. That being said, some churches in the U.S. cities with a large number of Sicilians still host feasts on March 19, and there is even an annual St. Joseph’s Day parade in New Orleans.