The Gospels say very little about Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. He is only mentioned a few times by name (Matthew 1:16-25; 2:13ff; Luke 2), although Jesus is referred to as “the carpenter’s son,” so we know Joseph’s profession.
Lack of knowledge has not stopped people over the centuries from developing legends and tales about Saint Joseph, or from creating rituals that involve him. Some of these “remembrances” are, to say the least, very strange, while others seem quite appropriate for the head of the household of the Holy Family.
One of the more unusual rituals is the practice of burying a statue of Saint Joseph upside down in order to sell a home or property. You can even buy kits for this purpose with instructions on what to do. Why this practice is supposed to work is unclear. As one person was heard to say, “Wouldn’t it be more effective to hold statues of Jesus and Mary hostage than to bury a statue of Saint Joseph?”
One lovely practice that families can easily do is the age-old Italian tradition of the Saint Joseph Table. This tradition is still widely practiced today, on or about the March 19 Solemnity of Saint Joseph, Spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
The legend is that many centuries ago the island of Sicily experienced a severe famine. Starving villagers prayed for Saint Joseph to intercede on their behalf. Their prayers were answered, the famine ended, and people held a party to celebrate.
To celebrate the tradition of the Saint Joseph Table in the home, prepare a lovely meal and invite others to join you to celebrate that wonderful protector of families.
When held in churches, Italian villages, or Italian-American neighborhoods, this Solemnity of Saint Joseph is celebrated often with a tableau featuring an elderly man, a lovely young woman, and a little child (the Holy Family), and the three are frequently surrounded by a group of twelve men dressed as angels (the Apostles). When the food is blessed the “Holy Family” is served first. Then the entire community celebrates together for an afternoon and evening of feasting.
In a traditional Saint Joseph’s feast there are special decorations, foods (especially Saint Joseph’s Sfinge, a cream puff stuffed with ricotta and covered with oranges and cherries), and symbols. You can find suggestions for food and symbols online. What is most important is that people share what they have to feed their neighbors, especially those who are most in need.
There are many other customs and traditions celebrated by various cultures and communities throughout the Church’s liturgical year. You can learn more about these by visiting SaintsResource.com, SeanMisDiscipulos.com, and BeMyDisciples.com (Catechists/Teachers resources).
Daniel S. Mulhall is the Director of Strategic Markets for RCL Benziger.Sign Up for Our E-Newsletter!