This may seem a little off target for a fashion jewelry and accessory blog, but part of our theme is New Orleans and this story is as New Orleans as red beans and rice. Today, June 19, is the feast of St. Joseph and something very unique happens in New Orleans for this day—St. Joseph Day altars.
If you are not familiar with New Orleans and its culture, you probably have no idea what I am talking about. The story goes back to the Renaissance and came to America with the Sicilian immigrants. A famine struck Sicily during the Renaissance and the people faced starvation. They prayed to their country’s Patron Saint, St. Joseph, for relief from the drought Rains came, the fava bean crop was saved, starvation was averted, and a banquet of thanksgiving was offered. This began a tradition of going to St. Joseph for intercession and showing appreciation with a St. Joseph Day altar.
When Sicilians came to America, many settled in New Orleans and brought the tradition of St. Joseph Day altars with them. The book, Gumbo Ya-Ya, dedicates a chapter to this tradition. When some need prompted a person to seek the intercession of St. Joseph, they prepared a St. Joseph Day altar in their home filled with pastry’s fruits, pasta, fish, candles, holy pictures, and religious statues. Cakes and breads were included in creative shapes and designs. Meat is not included because St. Joseph’s Day usually falls in Lent.
The altar normally has three tiers, symbolizing the Trinity. A large statue of St. Joseph occupies the top. Gumbo Ya-Ya reprints invitations that were listed in The Times Picayune Newspaper. Anyone could stop in and share some food. Afterwards food was mostly donated to the poor.
Today St. Joseph Day altars are set up in Churches, homes, Italian restaurants, and halls. The St. Joseph altar shown is at St. Rita’s Church in Harahan, a municipality bordering New Orleans. While Sicilians settled in many areas of the United States, I don’t know anywhere outside of South Louisiana where this reverence for St. Joseph is preserved. Actually, most St. Joseph Day altars are in the New Orleans metropolitan area. This is something special to the citizens of the City that few outside the City know about. It’s a mix of feelings from reverence to warmth. It’s caring.