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Sicilian Tradition - St. Joseph's Altar


According to most sources, the St. Joseph Altar or table started in Sicily in the Middle Ages during a long drought and famine. People were dying of starvation and were forced to eat the fodder for the animals which was the fava bean. The people prayed and invoked St. Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, to intercede on their behalf for rain to end the drought. The rains began and the people were saved from starvation. In gratitude to St. Joseph, they prepared a feast with produce and grain they had grown from the harvest. In prayer they gave thanks to the Holy Family, Jesus, Mary and Joseph and after the celebration the food was given to the poor and less fortunate.

This tradition has been passed down through the centuries and brought to the United States when our families immigrated here during the period of 1890's to the early 1900's. So today as our parents and grandparents did, we continue this tradition. When life tolls upon us and our lives fall into crisis, we pray to St. Joseph to intercede for us to his son, by having a St. Joseph table.

For all those who share in the two week journey of prayer and preparation for the feast, or for those who just come on the day of the feast, they are given a fava bean as a sign of good luck and a reminder of answered prayers through the intercession of St. Joseph.

On The Feast Day

A group of people is selected from poor families and orphans to represent the Holy Family. The Holy Family and Angels take their place at the table, with St. Joseph, sitting at the head facing the altar, alongside him is his staff made of bread.

After the Holy Family is seated, the priest enters and blesses all before him. First a section of an orange is served to each at the table followed by lentil soup, spaghetti Milanese, Fish, frittata, artichokes, olives, pickles, salads, cheese, eggs, vegetables, fruits, cookies of every kind, breads in many shapes and styles. Finally, almonds, confetti with liqueur, wines and milk are served at the end of the feast by the Holy Family Now the guests, who have been praying and singing religious songs, are invited to eat.

After many centuries, St. Joseph Altars still serve as a reminder that those who have enjoyed some measure of good fortune must share it with those how have less.

Let us pray the Memorare to St. Joseph

Remember, O most illustrious Patriarch, St. Joseph, on the testimony of St. Teresa, thy devoted client, never has it been heard that anyone who invoked thy protection or sought thy mediation has not obtained relief.

In this confidence I come before thee, my loving protector, chaste spouse of Mary, foster father of the Savior of men and dispenser of the treasures of His Sacred Heart, despise not my earnest prayer, but graciously hear and obtain my petition.


St. Joseph, pray for us!


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