St. Joseph's Day the Chicago Way: Feasts, Traditions and Zeppole.

St. Joseph's Day the Chicago Way: Feasts, Traditions and Zeppole.
Zeppole, a special Italian treat for St. Joseph's Day.

St. Patrick's Day may get all the press with the parades, green beer and parties but for many Italian American families St. Joseph's Day, on March 19, two days after St. Patrick's Day, is a very special tradition celebrated with what else, but food.

Who is St. Joseph.

In Christian religions, St. Joseph is known as the spouse of the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus.

The Tradition.

In the Middle Ages through St. Joseph's intercessions with the Lord, Sicilians were saved from famine. In Italy, especially southern Italy and Sicily, where St. Joseph is as important as St. Patrick is in Ireland, St. Joseph Day is celebrated with a large Lenten feast often served to the entire village.  The tradition is celebrated in a similar way in America where Italian American communities and families create a big altar ("la tavola di San Giuse" or "St. Joseph's Table")  laden with food contributed by everyone dedicated to the saint.

Other Traditions.

Just as St. Patrick's Day revelers wear green, on St. Joseph's Day, Italians and others who want to celebrate, traditionally, wear red. Another way the day is celebrated is by giving to the needy.

The Pastries.

Italian pastries also play a large role in the celebration especially those originating in Sicily including--but not limited to:

  • Zeppole, which are "Italian doughnuts" dusted with sugar, cinnamon and honey or filled with yellow cream and covered with whipped cream.
  • Pignolatta or Struffoli which are a pyramid of little fried pastry balls covered in honey, nuts and chocolate bits symbolic of a pine cone.
  • Cannoli, a Sicilian pastry shaped like a "little tube" and filled with a sweet, creamy mixture often containing ricotta cheese.

These treats can be found on most St. Joseph Tables or at any of Chicago's many Italian bakeries.  One Sicilian Bakery that I frequent is Palermo Bakery at 3317 N. Harlem in Chicago 773-777-5957 with a second location at 3531 Rose St., Franklin Park (847) 349-5120.

Chicago Celebrations.

Churches all over the city and suburbs will offer traditional St. Joseph Tables filled with an elaborate display of foods, that typically include meatless dishes such as minestrone, pasta with breadcrumbs (the breadcrumbs symbolizing the sawdust that would have covered St. Joseph's floor), fish, stuffed artichokes, breads, sweets and, always, fava beans, which are considered "lucky" because during the drought, the fava thrived while other crops failed.. The feast table is traditionally decorated with a stalk of lily blossoms, votive candles and a lace tablecloth.  Celebrations start this weekend and continue through Monday, check Catholic churches in your vicinity.

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