The Feast  of  Saint Joseph


According to legend,  the St. Joseph Altar originated
 in Sicily many centuries ago during a period of drought and famine.  
In desperation, the people turned to St. Joseph
asking his help and intercession.  
When the rains came and the crops prospered,
 their prayers were answered.  
In thanksgiving, the community made offerings to St. Joseph
 of their most prized possession - food!  
They selected their finest grain, fruits, vegetables, seafood and wine and invited all to share in their prayer and festivity.  
The custom and devotion continue to this day.  
Reasons for having altars vary:  to fulfill a promise; to give thanks
for a favor granted, such as the safe return of a loved one from war, for healing the sick, for a happy family life,
for success in studies or business.
 It is also an opportunity for the prosperous
to share with those less fortunate.
Every item placed upon an altar has a meaning.  
The altar has 3 levels or steps representing the Holy Trinity.  On the top step, in a special place of honor
is a statue of St. Joseph and white lilies
which have become a symbol of his purity.

The speda is pastry made with unleavened, hard cookie dough and is filled with a mixture of ground figs.  The speda are formed into shapes and carved with intricate designs, baked and frosted.  The designs include a Monstrance containing the Host, a heart which represents the Sacred Heart of Jesus, peacocks representing  immortality and flowerpots which stand
 for springtime and new life.

Breads are baked with unleaved dough into shapes that
 represent the staff (cane) and beard of St. Joseph.  
Large loaves called Cuchidati shaped into wreaths represent the Crown of Thorns.  
A portion of this bread is dried and saved to protect homes from violent storms. Some people tear
 a bit of dried St. Joseph bread and throw it outside
during storms believing St. Joseph will quiet the storm.  

The cookies, cakes, pastries and candies
are extraordinary delicacies.  Cream puffs shaped like tiny swans; cakes shaped like lambs with white fluffy icing
 sprinkled with coconut resembling soft fleece.  
The pignolati are pastry kernels molded with caramelized
 sugar and honey into pyramids which represent
the pine cones Jesus played with as a child.

In addition to all the wheat products, there is a
great display of fruits, vegetables and a variety of seafood.
The St. Joseph Day Feast is entirely meatless, perhaps because
the Feast day occurs during the Lenten season
of fast and abstinence
 or because there  was always a scarcity of meat.

The main dish is the same at every altar.  
Pasta con Sarde or Pasta Milanese, is spaghetti with a tomato sauce made of a fish base, anchovy or sardines, the ferny tops
 of fresh anise, pine nuts and currants.
 Instead of grated cheese, browned seasoned bread crumbs
 (modica) is sprinkled on top.
 The bread crumbs symbolize the sawdust  
in St. Joseph's workshop.

Every altar has a bowl of dried uncooked fava beans.  
This myth began during one of the famines in Sicily.
 At that time the fava bean was used as fodder for cattle.
 In order to survive, the farmers prepared
 them for their table.
Every visitor to an altar is invited to take one
as it represents abundance.  It becomes his "lucky bean".  
Its legend says that the owner
will never want while it is in his pocket.

Nine days before the feast a novena begins
 and is prayed by the faithful.
 Prayer is a most important part of the feast.  

A lovely and important custom is that of
 having children enact the roles of the Holy Family, Jesus,
Mary and Joseph.  Sometimes favorite saints are chosen to accompany them.  A table is set especially for the saints,
who after the altar has been blessed,
are served a small portion of the different foods.
 After they have completed their meal, guests are then invited to enjoy a dinner of Pasta Milanese.  
No one wishing to eat is ever turned away.

  I'm preparing this altar to St. Joseph to thank him for surviving breast cancer (which I was diagnosed with 1 1/2 years ago).  Surgery and radiation treatments did the trick and I'm cancer free!!!!  So, I'm thanking St. Joseph and celebrating with my family and friends!
I'd like to dedicate this altar to all breast cancer survivors!  We have so much to be thankful for!!   
May St. Joseph Always Protect You.

Rosie Scalise Wolford
And Family