St. Joseph’s Table
On March nineteenth. the Church will celebrate the feast of St. Joseph. In Sicily, St. Joseph is honored on this date with a big celebration called The St. Joseph's Table. The custom of the St. Joseph's Table dates back to the fifteenth century. One year there was a terrible drought that affected the whole country of Sicily. The feudal land owners, in desperation turned to St. Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily, and promised him that if the rains would come, they would prepare a feast in his honor and invite all the people of the town. Accordingly, when the rains miraculously came, the landowners set up huge banquet tables in the public square, invited ll the poor, and served them themselves.
The particulars of the feast and celebration are as follows. An elaborate altar is set up, usually in the dining room of the home. In the place of honor is enthroned a statue of St. Joseph amidst silks, satins, and candles. The parish priest is always asked to come and bless the table and the food. Among the many people who come to the table are twelve special guests. These guests are referred to in Sicilian as "Ie vergineddi."
Now, we come to the part that everyone enjoys - the food. Since St. Joseph's Day falls during Lent, all the foods are meatless. The feast begins customarily with a small plate of macaroni and lentils, followed by a small plate of spaghetti and meatless sauce - topped with a boiled egg. Then come the dozens of egg omelets (frittata) usually containing every green vegetable yon can imagine: cauliflower, spinach, artichokes, fennel, asparagus, burdocks, and mustard seed. Last but not least, are the desserts like cannoli, honeyballs, sfingi, and various kinds of cookies, which are served throughout the meal.
The dish that is the centerpiece of the table is the special type of bread called St. Joseph's bread. It is sweet bread that is made from dough different from normal bread. It is made into various shapes such as a cane or staff to symbolize St. Joseph, a crown to symbolize Mary the Queen of Heaven, or the form of a baby (bambino) to symbolize the Child Jesus.
However, even though the food plays an important part in this celebration, it is not the focal point. The feeding and caring for the poor is the focal point of the celebration. That is why each guest receives a bag containing some St. Joseph's bread. These bags are not only for those who attend the table but also for the poor and sick of the community who could not possibly attend the celebration.