Saint Joseph’s Feast Day (Festa di San Giuseppe) is celebrated in Italy on March 19.
Because Saint Joseph is considered as a symbol of compassion and kindness and because he is the father of Jesus, Father’s Day is ‘Festa del Papa’ is also celebrated in Italy on this day.
The Feast day is celebrated big time in the majority of Sicily. As well as being a symbol of generosity especially to the poor, he is also is associated with harvests. People pray to him so as to have abundant crops; his statue is often used in religious ceremonies (the blessing of the crops) to prevent famine.
The statue on the right is that of Saint Joseph. Saint Anthony is also considered a significant saint in the Catholic Church and he is also often depicted holding the child Jesus.
In many parts of Sicily there are banquets to celebrate the bounty of the harvest (known as La Tavola di San Giuseppe – Saint Joseph’s Table). The main food is a collection of wheat based breads of various shapes and sizes, many sprinkled with seeds (grain and seeds are symbols of life). The food and breads on display were once shared and offered to the poor, now they are shared within the community.
In some of the villages in Sicily especially in the provinces of Enna, Caltanissetta, Trapani, Agrigento and the Aeolian islands the tradition of setting up an altar-like, multi-tiered table and the religious celebratory ceremony that accompanies this banquet is still practiced by some in varying forms in these communities.
But what may surprise you is that the photos of the Saint Joseph’s table in this post was taken at an exhibition called Donne di Sicilia (Women of Sicily) by Rosetta Pavone. She is a Mebourne -based Artist who was born in Valguarnera, a town in Sicily near Enna. The female members of all ages of the Valguarnera Social Club in Melbourne prepare the breads and have carried on this significant, cultural tradition which is still undertaken in Melbourne by male and female members.
The photo below is of Sicilian women in Melbourne making a particular type of Sicilian biscuits (called Scannati) and it is not associated with this event. I am including it in this post because it shows how scissors are used to make that particular pattern on the edges of dough which is often included on the wreath shaped votive breads.
Rosetta’s exhibition was held in the Kingston Art Gallery Moorabin in 30 October – 20 November 2014. She has also captured on film the women making the bread and the accompanying ceremony where selected members of the club and a Catholic priest participate. At this ceremony (and as can be seen in her film) the Holy Family is represented by an elderly man, a young woman, and a young male child. There are also twelve men or boys who represent the Apostles (Saints). A priest blesses the food, then the Holy Family is served before the apostles. The attendants viewing the ceremony must wait until family and saints have eaten before participating in the banquet.
In Rosetta’s film the Votive bread was auctioned to the community members to raise funds – I cannot remember if it was for the poor via the Church or the Valguarnera Social club. I am inclined to think that it was for a worthy charitable cause as the Catholic Priest blessed the food and conducted the ceremony.
It seems fitting that the Church also made St Joseph the patron saint of pastry cooks.