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Catholic Activity: St. Joseph's Table or Buffet Dinner

The Solemnity of St. Joseph is celebrated in a variety of ways all over the world. The most well-known tradition is the St. Joseph Table or St. Joseph Altar, started in Sicily. Florence Berger describes the tradition, and then gives ideas on how to celebrate the Feast of St. Joseph in your own home.


Following close up St. Patrick's Day comes the traditional feast day of St. Joseph. In America we do little or nothing to honor the foster father of Jesus, but in Italy and especially in Sicily this is one of the great holidays. St. Joseph has been chosen the patron and protector of the family; and our families certainly need a powerful lobbyist in heaven. Everyone loves St. Joseph Day in Sicily. The rich prepare a great buffet dinner. There are traditional dishes served, all of them especially good. And who are the guests? Who are the lucky ones to enjoy all this food? They are the ones whom St. Joseph would invite: the poor, the unfortunate, the halt and the blind.

Sometimes the celebration is a cooperative village effort. The mayor and his cohorts set up the buffet tables in the open public square opposite the cathedral. Wealthy families contribute the food. Everyone is welcome to share in the feast which rich and poor receive the blessing of St. Joseph and his blessed food.

The dinner begins with a play in which the "Holy Family" take the leading roles. St. Joseph may be old Giuseppe, the shoemaker, who has shod the villagers for 20 years or more. Mary, the mother, may be the beautiful Lucia who was best in her First Communion class. But Jesus, the Holy One, how could they choose that little black-eyed Giuliano to be Jesus? He is four years old — and all of those years full of trouble of his own making. He is an imp of Satan with his tricks. But look at him now as he sits at the head of the table with St. Joseph on one side and Maria on the other. He is like one of Raphael's angels, with his black eyes roving from the enormous platters of spaghetti with finocchio to the roasted artichokes and the lentil soup. And now look at him, even his tongue tips out as they bring in St. Joseph's Sfinge, a large round cream puff filled with sweet cheese and topped with candied cherries and orange peel. You can hear him promise to be good forever, if only he can have St. Joseph's Sfinge.

In our family we have not yet managed such a big celebration in honor of St. Joseph, but if a cream puff will convert an Italian imp we have hopes for our own variety. The spaghetti with fennel sauce is excellent, too, and makes a wonderful dish for Lent.

Let the children help with the cream puffs. Nothing is quite so dramatic in the oven. I always was timid about trying anything so fancy, but they really are not difficult.

Activity Source: Cooking for Christ by Florence Berger, National Catholic Rural Life Conference, 4625 Beaver Avenue, Des Moines, IA 50310, 1949, 1999

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