Many Italian St. Joseph’s Day traditions come from the middle ages. During a famine in Sicily, when food was scarce and many people were starving, the poor people had only their faith to rely on. St. Joseph was known as the protector of the Holy Family; thus, Italians with strong family relationships prayed for St. Joseph to intercede for them, in an effort to ensure successful crops. Their prayers were answered, and the famine came to an end. In gratitude, people promised to make annual offerings of their most precious possession – food in St. Joseph’s honor.
Italian Catholics and many descendants of Italian immigrants prepare St. Joseph Tables, tavole di San Giuseppe, set to honor St. Joseph. They are filled with beautiful and often elaborate foods, including meatless dishes such as stuffed artichokes, pasta and fish, as well as breads, cookies, pastries, cakes and other delicacies.
• St. Joseph Tables are placed in both churches and homes. Each table is blessed by a priest and presided over by a statue of St. Joseph. A stalk of lily blossoms, votive candles and a lace tablecloth are typically used to decorate the feast table.
• Notices are posted in newspapers and in other media inviting the public to view and partake of the traditional meal of pasta Milanese. Participants often leave donations at the table.
• Special groups such as orphans, the elderly or the homeless are invited to share in the feast. At the end of St. Joseph’s Day, leftover food is sold or given away, and any money earned is donated to the poor.
In the United States, red is worn on St. Joseph’s Day. There doesn’t seem to be any religious significance to this color. It seems to have begun as a tradition to complement the tradition of wearing green on St. Patrick’s Day, which falls only two days before.
St. Joseph is the patron of workers and those in need of work. Prayers for the unemployed are often included in the traditions of March 19th celebrations.