St. Joseph's Altar

Lisa Frost
A few years ago my oldest friend Amy and I held a St. Joseph Altar in my home. St. Joseph's day is March 19th. St. Joseph is the patron saint to fathers, carpenters, and Sicilians. My daughter Libbie says, "St Joseph is Jesus' Dad." That works too.A St. Joseph Altar is a Sicilian tradition. And Amy and I are both half Sicilian. We met when we were six years old at St. Rita's school...we have grown up together. At the time of our Altar, both of our mothers had gone through some rather traumatic experiences and we wanted to offer thanksgiving to St Joseph for their well-being.   The story goes like this... the St. Joseph Altar originated in Sicily centuries ago during a long period of drought and famine. According to legend, the villagers prayed to St. Joseph for some relief from the famine.  St. Joseph responded by bringing heavy rains that helped the crops to flourish. In thanksgiving, the people made offerings to him of food (their most prized possession) and later gave the food to the needy and the hungry. The ritual is still carried on in churches and homes of Italian-Americans all across the country. Today, people use St.Joseph's day to celebrate renewal for things ranging from recovery from illness, success in business, or a happy family life. The altar is prepared by countless volunteers who works like crazy to fix a free meal open to anyone who pays homage. Pasta Sardina is served which is a fish based sauce and a traditional spaghetti style pasta, modicha (breadcrumbs), a pieces of bread and a froshia(egg omelet)...and of course a dessert. No one is turned away. 4 saints are chosen to sit at the fancy table. They are representing Jesus, Mary, Joseph and a special saint. The saints are served first and are given special gifts. At our altar a Pinalata cross was made for each saint... Everyone who visits the altar is given a fava bean. The bean carries a message, "may you never go without". A novena is offered 9 days ahead of time and everyday until the altar. We learned it in Italian from this wonderful woman, Rose Zammuto. And a wonderful man, Gene Fedeli taught us palm weaving.   I grew up with memories of my Mom and Dad working on St. Joseph's altar at my church. Mom worked on the committee and Dad helped on the weekend. I remember we did a lot of speciality baking. For our altar, we made a few Italian chocolate and Cuccidati (fig) cookies... We gave the kids little jobs... Sadly, we learned from our many conversations, that home altars are becoming  a lost art.  Younger generations have not embraced this amazing offering. The older generation holds all the information, skill and stories. For my altar, it was my mission to learn all I could, share all I could, and offer all I could. Our friend Rosie was the key to helping us put the altar together. She taught us everything! It is a beautiful tradition. A real sense of community was established. it seemed like everyone had a story, a memory and deep devotion to their faith. Volunteers would just show up...come and work all day. It was really beautiful. We served pasta to 300 people and took many take-outs to the sick...any food we had left over and all monetary donations were donated to the Poor Clare's and the Rescue Mission.  This weekend and this Tuesday, March 19th...there will undoubtedly be a St Joseph Altar in a church or a home near you.  Please go! All are welcome.  You will be amazed at how food can be transformed into delicious works of art, the strong faith of all those devoted to Saint Joseph, the preservation of the cultural heritage of Siclian tradition, and the true charity behind it to feed the hungry and give to the poor. Viva San Giuseppe!            

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