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Saint Joseph’s Day of Joy and Food: the feast of a Catholic saint is a moment for family and community

Like many Italian-Americans, my fondest childhood memories include aromatic foods, noisy social gatherings, and the Catholic saints who bring them together. With the Feast of San Giuseppethe feast of San José on March 19, tomorrow, that opportunity comes to life.

Out-of-towners passing through New York’s Italian neighborhoods will find a festive mix of street traffic and delicacies. Statues of St. Joseph, a huge celebrity to us, are prominently displayed on front lawns and in store windows.

To commemorate this day, my family and neighbors would gather at a local parish in the Bronx to participate in the procession — the procession — carrying an icon of Saint Joseph through the streets, singing hymns and praying the rosary. As we reached the church steps, the crowd erupted in raucous praise. If you have seen the representation of the procession of San Rocco in “The Godfather II”, it will look familiar to you.

No Italian holiday is complete without food, and Saint Joseph is graced with culinary delights. bakeries make Zeppolefried dough shells filled with custard or cannoli and topped with a cherry. sting, an equally delicious fritter, are filled with ricotta cheese. Dried orange peels and chocolate chips are sometimes added to imbue the day with extra sweetness. These cakes are put together Saint Giuseppe panel, the bread of San Jose. The loaves are baked in the shape of crosses and staffs, hearts and crowns, which symbolize a kind of sacred food. Eating, for Italians, after all, is a ritual that borders on the sacred.

According to legend, it was a good old-fashioned prayer that gave rise to this holiday. The nuns who raised me told stories of a drought that struck Sicily in the 17th century. Desperate, the Sicilians begged Saint Joseph for a miracle. Then the rain came, bringing new life to the barren fields. What followed was a festival of gigantic proportions, and the Sicilians built huge, colorful altars to thank Saint Joseph.

The devotion to him does not end there. Saint Joseph is the patron saint of workers, carpenters, parents, the unemployed, pregnant women, families, immigrants, and travelers. Declared patron of the Universal Church in 1870, America, Canada, Belgium, Croatia, the Philippines and Indonesia, among others, claim him as their patron. The causes for which he intercedes are numerous, including the sale of homes and the assurance of a happy death.

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In fact, there is little that St. Joseph cannot do.

A close friend who was struggling to find work said a novena, a prayer normally recited for nine consecutive days, to Saint Joseph and quickly got a job offer. A cousin calls St. Joseph every time she looks for a parking space. That burst pipe in the basement? She cries out to Saint Joseph, since home is her spiritual jurisdiction.

Despite his popularity, we know little about Saint Joseph other than what is written in the Scriptures. Born in Bethlehem of Jewish royal lineage, he lived a simple life as a carpenter. As the cornerstone of the Holy Family, he served as a protector to Mary and a mentor to the young Jesus, and likely died before Jesus entered public ministry. In the Gospel of Matthew, Joseph is referred to as “a just man.”

But it is not the spiritual identity of Saint Joseph that makes him a role model today; it is from his humanness that we draw our most important lessons. We see a man who found out that the woman he married was pregnant with someone else’s child, but he decided to stay by his side. We see a man who left everything he knew and fled to a strange land to keep his family safe. We see a man who looked into the eyes of his stepson and recognized his own ability to love unconditionally.

José’s life was nothing less than a portrait of courage. Not because he closed his eyes to what was happening around him and still got the job done, but because he faced unfathomable circumstances and acted compassionately. When we remove the centuries of parties and miracles, we find a man who understood the frailty of the mortal heart but embraced the divine power of the immortal soul.

At a time of mounting disasters, social unrest, and deep partisan divisions, St. Joseph offers our society ways to overcome despair and doubt and help those in need. With his refreshing view of humanity, he urges us to model humility and empathy and embrace the transcendent power of seeing the divine in all of us. If that’s not worthy of a holiday, and a Zeppole – I do not know what it is.

Pagliarulo is the author of “The Evil Eye: The History, Mystery and Magic of the Quiet Curse,” which will be published in May.

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