St. Joseph’s Day, or the Feast of Saint Joseph, is a religious observance known as a feast day, celebrated every year on March 19. It commemorates Saint Joseph, the husband of the Virgin Mary and Jesus’s Stepfather. This day is thought to have been his birthday. It is not a public holiday, and as such businesses and schools are open, and it is a regular workday.
The History of St. Joseph’s Day
This observance has been established in calendars since the 10th century, however, it wasn’t adopted by the Roman church until the 15th century when Pope Pius V added the custom to the liturgical rite.
Saint Joseph’s Day was established as a feast day in the 19th century.
Who Was Saint Joseph?
Saint Joseph was said to be a carpenter, and a highly-skilled artisan and tradesman. He married the Virgin Mary and became the stepfather of Jesus Christ. Together, the three are known as the Holy Family.
Accounts of Joseph are noticeably absent from reports of Jesus’s days as a preacher, thus it is believed that he may have died before this.
In 1870, Pope Pius IX named Saint Joseph as the protector of the Catholic Church. He is also the patron saint of unborn children, fathers, immigrants and workers. Because of the latter, there is another religious observance that commemorates Saint Joseph on May 1st.
Saint Joseph is regarded as a model for fathers everywhere, and some Catholic countries celebrate Father’s Day on March 19.
St. Joseph’s Day Celebrations in the United States
During a period of famine in Sicily, where crops weren’t prospering, Italians prayed to St. Joseph for successful harvests. These prayers were answered, and with enough yields, the famine ended for the poor people. To give thanks, Italians began giving annual offerings of food for the saint, these were placed in altars known as Saint Joseph’s Tables.
In the United States, this tradition is still observed in New Orleans, where there is a large Sicilian community. Saint Joseph’s Day is an event that is celebrated across the whole city, with public and private altars being built filled with food such as pasta, fish, bread, cakes, pastries and fava beans. The food must be meatless, as March 19 happens during lent. These altars are blessed by a priest and hold a statue of St. Joseph. Afterwards, the food is donated to charities.
New Orleans also hosts big Saint Joseph Day parades, similar to the ones of Mardi Gras. Some people believe that burying a Saint Joseph statue upside down will help them sell their house.
Saint Joseph’s Day is also celebrated in other parts of the United States where there are big Italian communities, such as New York, Chicago, Kansas and Rhode Island. In these places, people observe the day by following the tradition of wearing red.