March 19 is another special day in marvelous Italy. Giuseppe, one of the most popular names in southern Italy, and the husband of Mary is celebrated on this date, as Festa del Papa, or Father’s Day. Yes, the gospel story teaches us of the malady faced by Joseph and Mary regarding finding a room for the fateful evening of Jesus’ birth. Giuseppe, which translates to Joseph in English, is the saint of children, unwed mothers, and the needy.
Where do you want to be on March 19? We insist you visit us in Sicily! In the capital city of Palermo, let’s enjoy the fabulous street foods, one of the favorites of Sicilians. More interesting information about this day of celebration is intermingled for you below, keep reading!
Traditionally, March 19 marked the end of winter, and during a horrible drought in the Middle Ages, the people prayed to San Giuseppe to help them with rain, and the rains came. The fava bean was the most plentiful crop and is now a symbol of good luck and generosity. To show their appreciation for San Giuseppe’s help, Sicilians set out tables filled with food and invited anyone who wanted to, to partake of the bounty. The day is now known as one of helping those in need and granting them plentiful meals. Zeppola is one of the most famous meals prepared on this special day. If you’d like to try your hand at the recipe, you’ll find it here.
Another street food tour happens in Catania, and you are also invited to visit us there! Catania is the second largest city in Sicily and home to picturesque Mount Etna.
Today, both the Catholic and Lutheran churches celebrate the day. Celebrations include fava beans, wearing red clothing and erecting altars, filled with bread, and usually a grand parade.
From the religious aspect, March 19, which is always during Lent, is a day of abstinence. This explains the custom of Saint Joseph tables being covered with meatless dishes. Saint 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.
The day is also huge in New Orleans, Louisiana, USA, which was a port city where many Italian immigrants passed and settled in the area, hence, Mardi Gras. The day is celebrated in many American locations, where the Italian population is heavy.
Meanwhile, back in Sicily, it takes many women, who work for days to prepare the ornamental bread. Many are braided into shapes of a cross or crown, staffs, and palms, each representing Jesus, Joseph, and Mary respectively. The breads are then placed on a three-tiered altar, representing the Trinity, and covered with beautiful linens. The altar table is blessed by a priest, and after the celebration, children take the altar down, and the food goes to the needy. People also place other items on the altars, including flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, bread, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and of course, zeppola.
You may also note breadcrumbs on many altars, representing sawdust from Joseph, the carpenter.
If you want to learn to cook like a true Sicilian, we’ll be taking a cooking class in Palermo to sharpen our kitchen talents. And after all this fantastic food, we’ll be working off the calories with a bike tour of Palermo. So, we’ll look forward to seeing you on March 19 in the land of the Godfather, sizzling Sicily. These are all offers you cannot refuse amici (friend)!