The St. Joseph's Table

[Regions of Italy] [Back to Sicily]


St. Joseph
Italy has dozens, if not hundreds!, of saints' days. Each little town and village, each major city, has its saint, and on the saint's day the town, village or city stops to celebrate and pay thanks. The festivities can take many shapes, from the most purely religious to the most hedonistically secular. Generally, the custom is to welcome one and all, whether local resident or casual visitor. Before you leave home, we suggest you click here to find out what saints' days will be celebrated in the areas you will be visiting.

Generally speaking, saints' days are more fervently recognized in the South. Sicily's most important saint is Giuseppe (Joseph), Father of Jesus, whose day is celebrated on March 19. Many activities are scheduled, including the very unique one called the St. Joseph's Table. This ancient tradition goes back to the Middle Ages. At that time there was an exceptionally severe drought in Sicily. No rain fell for an extended period of time, no crops would grow, and countless people died of famine. The peasants prayed to God for rain, and they also prayed to St. Joseph to intercede with God on their behalf. They promised that if God caused it to rain, they would have a special feast honoring God and St. Joseph.


Photograph used with
permission of Anna Chupa:
Our Lady of Lourdes,
Violet, Louisianna, 1997,
Copyright © Anna Chupa
By miracle, the rains came and the crops were planted. With the harvest, the people prepared a feast of foods from their crops. This has become known as the Tavola di San Giuseppe. Through the centuries, people who have prayed for a favor and been granted the favor use this festivity to show their thanks. The "favor" requested must not be for personal gain or benefit. Some common requests are the safe return of a loved one from a war (very common request during World War II), or that a loved one will be cured and survive from a serious, life threatening illness or accident.

The Table manifestation takes many forms, depending on the town or village of origin. We have been invited to the St. Joseph's Table arranged by the family of our friend Joe Tambe, in Covina, California. Here is what Joe told the invited guests as they gathered in his home:

"Thank you all for being here. You honor me and my family with your presence at this special manifestation of devotion to God and St. Joseph.

You are here because you are "family"...both related and as special friends. Unlike the "public" Tables, offered by Clubs and Church groups, where the Table manifestation is open to the public and all are invited to attend, when in a private home, only a select group of family and special friends are invited.

When I sponsored a Table for the first time in 1981, I said that I could feel the presence in the room of my deceased mother and grandmother. Today, I feel their presence again, along with my father, brothers Angelo and Chris, Aunt Catherine and others.

In this instance, I personally prayed to God and St. Joseph for a special favor. The favor was granted.... so with the wonderful participation and support of my family, this Table is presented. It is also our tradition that we do not divulge the nature of the favor requested.


St. Joseph Table 2002
I chose to personally sponsor the presentation. Others have promised to beg, door to door, for any amount of money that would then be used to buy the ingredients and foodstuffs for display and later tasting. (My dear, late, Aunt Catherine, only did a Table with the promise of begging). Aunt Catherine was the mother of the person portraying St. Joseph today, my cousin Anthony Tambe who came here from Rochester, NY for this occasion.

Even the nature of the "promise" varies. In my case I promised to present a Table only one time. Some people promise to present a Table each year for the rest of their lives (this was a common promise during WW II when mothers prayed for the safe return of their sons from the war).

In this case, the style is from the town of Valguarnera Caropepe in the Province of Enna, in the center of the island of Sicilia. This is the town where my parents were born. Many of you here also have origins in Caropepe and are thus known as "Carrippipanni."

This is not a "Joe Tambe" Table. Rather it is presented by my entire family, especially my sister Florence, my other sister Ida, Cousin Louise, Cousin Florence, my son, my three daughters, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.


St. Joseph Table 1942
The style of this Table is patterned after the Table presented by my grandmother, mother, and aunts in 1942. A photograph of that Table is displayed here today. The focal piece of the Table is a statue of St. Joseph, holding the baby Jesus, complemented by lighted votive candles and stick candles. On the Table are only foods grown by the peasants or found growing wild in the fields: pasta cca muddica (honey and breadcrumbs), cicoria greens, stuffed artichokes, stuffed eggplant, fresh fennel stalks, batter-fried cardune, cauliflower and broccoli, spinach/egg fritattas, fresh oranges, apples, grapes, etc. Also displayed in vases are shafts of wheat and spaghetti. (as a special memory to my mother, her favorite Roseville vases were used).

People have asked me why there is no "meat" on the Table. This is because, even if the poor peasants could afford meat, it is the Lenten Season, so no meat is used. In the tradition of other towns that were closer to the sea, fish was readily available and fish dishes were used on their Tables. But our town is in the center of Sicily. No fresh fish was available, so none is used here.

"Sweets" offered are: piccidatti, cassateddi, pignalatti, sfinge, scocchi, cannoli and cookies, all in the style of our town.

The special bread of San Giuseppe was prepared by a Baker friend (and sponsored by my friend Mary Jo).

The many floral arrangements were provided by Mary Jo and my cousin Sandy. The special floral arrangement in the center of the "Saints" Table was brought by Mary Jo as a tribute to her father who passed away several years ago. Mary Jo's mother, Angela, prepared two frittatas for the Table.

Also displayed, for sentimental reasons, are a woodworking object built by my father many years ago...along with a pannara (woven basket) made by my father over 50 years ago.


Texas Congressman
Nick Lampson's Table
(courtesy of NIAF)
At the low table, in front of the "stepped" Table, are seated the persons who we refer to as the "Saints": my cousin Anthony as St. Joseph, my 12-year-old grandson Zach as Jesus, and my 17-year-old granddaughter Rebecca as Mary. In our tradition, one of the eldest men in the extended family is selected as St. Joseph.

The Saints' table is set with fine china, silver and crystal provided by my sister Florence. The lace "tablecloth" is actually a bed sheet...hand worked by my grandmother as part of her "trousseau" in the late 1800's.

After the short ritual, the Saints will be served from the foods displayed. St. Joseph will ask Jesus what he wants to eat. A Hostess gives that plate to St. Joseph, who takes a portion and serves Jesus. Then everyone is invited to have a "taste" of the foods displayed on the Table.

The Saints will be served by my daughters Toni, Pamela and Stephanie. Hostesses are my grand nieces, Jeannine, Jennifer and Alexis.

Earlier today, my long time friend, Fr. Paul Caporale, was here to bless our Table.


This is the prayer he read:

'O, glorious St. Joseph, we stand before this Altar with joyful and grateful hearts. We lovingly present to you the labor of our hands and the dedication of our hearts that have fashioned this Altar in your honor. We again place ourselves under your powerful protection. Help us follow your example of complete trust and faith in Divine Providence. Open our minds and hearts to love and serve the poor, the suffering and those rejected or ignored by society. As a family, teach us to love and honor each member of our families with the love and reverence you had for Jesus and Mary. As a nation, inspire in us the will and the way to live in peace with all nations of the world that in our day we can experience the fulfillment of the prayer of Jesus. Peace be to you.

Remember, O most pure spouse of the Blessed Virgin Mary, our sweet protector, St. Joseph, that no one ever had recourse to your protection or implored your aid without obtaining relief.

Lord Jesus, bless this Altar, all this food, the candles, those who prepared it and all those who visit it. We ask this in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Amen.'

At this time, I invite you to join with me in remembering our loved ones who are no longer with us and whom we miss very much. Through them we experienced this and other traditions, which we hope future generations will perpetuate.

Now, the ritual, in Sicilian:

St. Joseph holds up two fingers of Jesus' right hand
St. Joseph says and Jesus repeats (3 times):

Benedette la Cena
Benedette Maddalena
Benedette tutte quando.
Patri, Figli, e Spiritu Santu
Quando, Quando, Che Angele Sante.
Patri, Figli, Spiritu Santu

(Bless this meal, Bless Maddalena, Bless everyone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit When, when, what Sainted Angels. Father, Son and Holy Spirit)

If you have photographs, special memories, or comments about different ways to celebrate the St. Joseph's table, please feel free to contact us. We will be happy to publish your contributions on this page.

Italian Heritage also offers several yummy recipes.






This table was made by Domenico and Lena Volpe in Los Angeles, 1957.  They had all the traditional breads and cookies and 7 "saints".  Everyone went to Mass in the morning and came home for the feast. It was one of the most wonderful memories I have growing up.

Laura Nyhius
beamer@fea.net



This is an altar hosted by Denise Degelia Deluke and Louis and Geneva Morella on April 21st in Bryan, Texas. This is the 2nd time they have hosted together and will be hosting another one on April 6, 2003. 450 people were served and there were 30 saints and breads.

Denise Degelia DeLuke
denisedeluke@hotmail.com




Giuseppe Pappalardo submitted this photo of the 2002 Table they put on in Ottawa, Canada.

E-mail
joepappalardo@rogers.com


By accident, I found your website today March 20, after remembering that yesterday was the day when we would visit the homes of little old Sicilian women, and receive the wonderful pasta, and little breads, and oranges blessed by the priests. I grew up in Gloucester, MA. Third generation of the Favalora and Pallazola families from Terrisimo near Palermo, and moved to Boston mostly at the turn of the century. I enjoyed a rich childhood of growing up in a warm and loving and huge Sicilian family in America.

Sincerely, Bonnie Rogers
ronnieb1@comcast.net


As a teenager living in Louisiana, we attended a Catholic school. There was a family who had a St. Joseph table one year. I had never heard of one before. We were allowed to visit the home as a field trip. That was over thirty years ago and I can still remember how lovely everything on the table was. I didn't really know the meaning of it, just that there was some one sick, and the table was supposedly for them. Thank you for the information about the table.

Cindy Dickey



Hello,

I am a 58 year old female living in Southern California. As a child growing up in Louisiana, my aunt had a St. Joseph Table in her home year after year. My parents were Baptist and I never really understood the significance of the St. Joseph Table, until today when I read the information at your site. I want to thank you for this wealth of information. I will share this information with the students at Carnegie Junior High School on Career Day and introduce them to your site. Thanks, thanks, and many thanks.

Vergie
VSeymore@aol.com




Here is a picture of a St. Joseph's Table made by the Longo family in Boyle Heights (Los Angeles County) in 1946. My Great Aunt Rose Longo promised a table to St. Joseph for sending her boys home from WW2. She did it for 10 years with the help of her sons, daughters and their wives and husbands. It was beautiful......a joy to see.

Thanks, Katherine (Randazzo)
WBSR38@aol.com


Here are some pictures of Houston's Charity Guild of St. Joseph's altar of 2004. Our altar had an outstanding turnout and people have come to expect not only the beauty of the altar but the lovingly baked goods that are sold after the blessing. This group of women are a total joy to work with and it was an experience that will live on in my memory forever.

Vickie Tamburo Sengbusch



The first St. Josephs Table for the club, Daughters of Italian Heritage, was held on Wednesday, March 9, 2005 in Houston, Texas. All of the decorating of the table, cooking, and serving of the food was supervised by Mary "Puddin" Iacono and Jeanette Palasota. The elaborate and decorative pastries were created by Italian pastry artists Frances Pollizzio, Marie Pollizzio and Vita Rossi. We are a club affiliated with the Italian Cultural and Community Center of Houston, Texas.
The Daughters can be reached by email at info@houstonitaliancenter.com



Here are some pictures of our 2005 St. Joseph's Table.  This table was held in Copperas Cove, Texas and hosted by Pedro and Sheryl Fava and Sheryl's Mom Virginia Wager of Bryan, and her Aunt Shirley Ribardo-James of Royse City.  Our annual table for 2006 will be held in Bryan, Texas this year at Sheryl's Brother Billy Wager Jrs. home. We hope you like the pictures from the 2005 table.

Pedro and Sheryl Fava
972-618-6780


The Italian American Marching Club is proud to stand as the largest ethnic organization in the southeastern United States. We will be back parading in the French Quarter (now the safest part of New Orleans) every year for St. Joseph's Day!  Mark it down on your calendar to be with us!



 

Hello Joe,

I was born and raised in Jamestown, New York and in 2004 relocated in Columbus, Ohio. I recall being taken to the St. James church as a child to the St. Joseph's Table, the procession etc. The first borns in our family going back many generations (researching since 1963) were named Joseph & Mary. Growing older with many relatives transplanted in Buffalo I had many opportunites of being invited into personal homes to the St. Joseph's Table.

When I moved to New Albany, Ohio a suburb of Columbus, I joined the Church of the Resurrection. After living in Western NY all my life and in one house for 60 years, I never dreamed I would live anywhere else but as you grow older, things change and they did for me! My husband had been gone for 12 years and my three sons could not visit as much as they use to because they have families of their own. Not having any close family or relatives, I had to make a decision, I thought of my grandparents when they left Sicily, they knew they could never return, helped me make the decision to make the move, I consoled myself that five hours is not that far from Jamestown to Columbus.

Not knowing a soul other than my three sons and their families, and they all work, I knew I had to get involved with the church, to which I have been close all my life. It was an agonizing decision and I prayed constantly for the fear of the unknown. When I registered at the church I asked the priest if he could introduce me to someone who could introduce me to the various ministries in the church, meet people and to feel comfortable. That she did, after a couple of months the seniors group had an off site luncheon to which we went. While at the lunch the gal in charge of the Seniors Group (Young at Heart) announced she could no longer head the group and no one offered to fill the position. Being close to the church all my life and in the past 20 years in wintering in Florida being very active and involved, I offered to take it over. When I got home, I asked myself, "Are you out of your mind? You don't know a name or a face." But with the help of all, from a faltering seniors group to the most successful Ministry in the parish. With all that said, I continue to read in the Ita-Sicily site of your St. Joseph's Table and from that my deep desire to do something. I started asking those of Italian decent if they were familiar to the Table, and to my surprise very few ever heard of it. It became my mission within the church for the seniors to know about St. Joseph's Table and its origin. It wasn't easy but this year was the third year and it was very successful in this newly built church of 2004. I put a free will offering basket at the dessert table for the Holy Family Soup Kitchen in Columbus and collected money for the needy. So, thank you Joe, for every year bringing this custom to the attention of the Italian Americans who are unaware and reminding those who remember the traditions of our ancestry to never forget.

Again many thanks,
Marie Todaro-DiTillio


My wife and I were very impressed with "The St. Joseph's Table" article on the Internet. My Mother and Father Anna & Luigi Cassano were born in Bari, Italy have celebrated and displayed a St. Joseph Alter in their home for some 60 years. As a child the St. Joseph Statue was placed on the alter on March 10th and family and friends would kneel and pray a Novina until March 19th St. Joseph Day. Let me preface the above about the St. Joseph Statue. Family legend has that the Statue origin was from Sicily. It stands 21 Inches tall with St. Joseph holding Baby Jesus in his lefty arm and is removable, being a separate statue, we think it dates about 160 years.The whole statue is made with paper machete (spelling ?) and can be held in one hand and the marvelous thing about it is that it has never been touched up, it has all it's original coloring. My sister Theresa has been ill when a child,  and Mom & Dad dedicated St. Joseph Day to her recovery. In regard to the food aspect, they had a local bakery make small loaves of a knotted bread laced in the dough lightly with Fennel Seeds. Also on the alter was dried Fava Beans all blessed by the local priest and distributed to visitors. The story about the bread and bean is that there had been a sever drought  in Sicily and all prayed to St. Joseph for rain, thus, crops grew, wheat, etc. and therein the giving of the above. People came to pray for loved ones and donating flowers for the alter. When my parents passed on, sister Theresa took on the tradition for many years using gold plated candelabras giving to her on their 50th Wedding Anniversary and and when she passed my wife Marie and I carry on the tradition to this day, we have just completed 25 years celebrating the day. As seen in the picture set up is a three tier set up, representing "The Trinity". When we were married my mom presented us with her marriage bedspread dating over 100 years old and Marie uses it on the alter.  In regard to food, we do a table set aside containing, Zeppolie, Sfing, Cookies, etc. for visitors. The family feasts on Pasta Con Sarde. We have a very large extend family and our nephew Billy made an outstanding remark, you know Aunt Marie, we all came to visit St. Joseph, but in reality, isn't it St. Joseph who brought us all together? Marie & I hope you would include the above story on the Internet page.

Sincerely
Joe & Marie Cassano
K2SRE@aol.com



[Regions of Italy] [Back to Sicily]