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Saint Joseph's Day

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Saint Joseph's Day, 19 March, the Feast of St. Joseph or Solemnity of Saint Joseph is in Western Christianity the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.[1] It is a Solemnity in the Roman Catholic Church, a feast in the provinces of the Anglican Communion, and a feast or festival in the Lutheran Church. Saint Joseph's Day is the Patronal Feast day for persons named Joseph, Josephine, etc., for religious orders, schools and parishes bearing his name, and for carpenters. It is also Father's Day in some Catholic countries, mainly Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

This date was already dedicated to Saint Joseph in several Western calendars in the tenth century. It was accepted in Rome in 1479, and in 1621 it was inserted into the General Roman Calendar for celebration throughout the Latin Rite. Since it always falls within Lent, Episcopal Conferences may, if they wish, transfer it to a date outside Lent.[2]

The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates Saint Joseph on the Sunday after Christmas.[3] Between 1870 and 1955 the Roman Rite had another feast in honour of Saint Joseph as Patron of the Universal Church, a title given to him by Blessed Pope Pius IX. This "Solemnity of St. Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Patron of the Universal Church", referred to also as the "Patronage" feast to distinguish it from that of 19 March, appears in the calendars of those years for celebration on Wednesday of the second week after the Octave of Easter (i.e. the third Wednesday after Easter) and was celebrated with an octave of its own. Pope Pius XII abolished this feast in 1955, and at the same time established a new feast day, that of Saint Joseph the Worker (a Double of the First Class), for celebration on 1 May, a date chosen to coincide with the celebration in many countries of Labour Day (May Day). Since not every country celebrates May Day as Labour Day, the Memorial of Saint Joseph the Worker was made optional in 1969.[4]

Catholic traditions

Because March 19 always falls during Lent, St. Joseph's Day feasts often have no meat, even though—because the feast day is classed as a solemnityabstinence from meat is not required according to Canon law, even if it falls on a Friday. If the feast day falls on a Sunday (other than Palm Sunday), it is observed on the next later available date instead: this is the following day, Monday, March 20. From 2008 onwards, if St Joseph's Day falls during Holy Week, it is moved to the next earlier available date, usually the Saturday before Holy Week. This change was announced by the Congregation for Divine Worship in Notitiae March-April, 2006 (475-476, page 96). The idea was to avoid the "traffic jam" that would occur under the old rules if both St Joseph's Day and the Annunciation had to be moved to the first available date after Easter Week. This does not apply to Traditional Roman Catholics who follow the older calendar and maintain his feast on March 19 as well as on the Wednesday before the Third Sunday after Easter.


In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, and many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph ("San Giuseppe" in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation, and is a traditional part of St. Joseph's Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph's Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a Zeppole on St. Joseph's Day.[5][6]

Upon a typical St. Joseph's Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.[6][7]

Some villages like Belmonte Mezzagno use to burn wood and logs in squares on the day before St.Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. This is called "'A Vampa di San Giuseppe"(the Saint Joseph's bonfire).[6]


This is one of the public holidays in Malta, known as Jum San Ġużepp. In this day people celebrate mass in the morning, and in the afternoon go for a picnic in the countryside. It is a liturgical feast in the localities of Kalkara, Manikata, Msida, and Qala, but the Maltese typical festa each of these localities celebrate it in a particular Sunday in summer. However, the city of Rabat celebrates the traditional Maltese feast on the 19th of March, where in the evening a procession is also held with the statue of St Joseph. On this day also the city of Żejtun celebrates the day, known as Jum iż-Żejtun (Zejtun's Day). In the past years the Żejtun Parish Church has celebrated these feast days with a procession with the statue of St Joseph.


In Spain, the day is a version of Father's Day. In some parts of Spain it is celebrated as Falles.

The Philippines

In the Philippines, many families keep a tradition in which an old man, a young lady and a small boy are chosen from among the poor and are dressed up as St. Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the child Jesus, respectively. They are then seated around a table set with the family's best silverware and china, and served a variety of courses, sometimes being literally spoon-fed by the senior members of the family, while the Novena to St. Joseph is recited at a nearby temporary altar.

United States of America

In New Orleans, Louisiana, which was a major port of entry for Sicilian immigrants during the late 19th century, the Feast of St. Joseph is a city-wide event. Both public and private St. Joseph's altars are traditionally built. The altars are usually open to any visitor who wishes to pay homage. The food is generally distributed to charity after the altar is dismantled.

There are also parades in honor of St. Joseph and the Italian population of New Orleans which are similar to the many marching clubs and truck parades of Mardi Gras and St. Patrick's Day. Tradition in New Orleans also holds that by burying a small statue of St. Joseph in your yard, your house will sell more promptly. In addition to the above traditions, some groups of Mardi Gras Indians stage their last procession of the season on the Sunday prior to St. Joseph's day otherwise known as "Super Sunday," after which their costumes are dismantled.

St.Joseph Altar

Traditional St. Joseph's Altar in New Orleans

In the Mid-Atlantic regions, St Joseph's day is traditionally associated with the return of anadromous fish, such as striped bass, to their natal rivers, such as the Delaware.

St Joseph's Day is also celebrated in other American communities with high proportions of Italians such as New York City; Buffalo; Chicago [8]; Kansas City, MO; Gloucester, Mass.; and Rhode Island.

St. Joseph's Day is also the day when the swallows are traditionally believed to return to Mission San Juan Capistrano after having flown south for the winter.

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