St. Joseph’s Bread
by Lynne Belluscio
The tradition of the St. Joseph’s table is shared by many Sicilian families. The origins of the feast can be traced to the Middle Ages and there are several variations of the story. The most common story tells of a terrible drought and famine in Sicily. The farmers and the fishermen prayed to St. Joseph and promised that if the drought ended, they would prepare a feast for all the peasants as a way to thank their patron saint for answering their prayers. When the drought ended and when the crops were harvested, a huge feast was prepared and no one was turned away. As time went by, the St. Joseph’s table was prepared as a way to remember prayers answered by St. Joseph. In Italy, and several other countries, St. Joseph’s Day in celebrated as fathers’ day. Tom MacPherson wrote about the St. Joseph’s Table in his book, Crossing Cultures. His Great Aunt Josephine O'Geen “kept many of the customs of Sicilian culture alive in her home, among them the Sicilian tradition of hosting a St. Joseph’s Table.” During World War II, she prayed to St. Joseph to protect her son, John, and promised to set a St. Joseph’s Table if he returned safe. In LeRoy, there were several women who prepared a St. Joseph’s table each year and everyone was invited to stop by and enjoy the food. In some communities, the St. Joseph’s day table is set at a church hall or community center, instead of in a home.
Traditionally the St. Joseph’s table is prepared on March 19, although it can be set on the weekend closest to that date. Food is displayed on a three-tier altar, symbolic of the Trinity or the three steps to heaven.