The St. Joseph Table Tradition
Sicily has many religious festivals; many date back to ancient times. March 19th is celebrated throughout Italy as a day of honoring St. Joseph and giving thanks to him. He is especially known as the patron saint of workers and artisans. As the husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, it is befitting that Father's Day is also held on this day throughout Italy.
The traditional story tells that it was during a severe drought in the Middle Ages, when crops were failing and families were starving, that people prayed to St. Joseph to help by sending rain. They promised a feast in his name if he would answer their prayers. The rain came, crops were planted and the people kept their word. Every year after, and even today, the faithful prepare a table (tavola) of thanks to St. Joseph. Although their prayers may no longer be asking for rain, people use this celebration instead to ask for the well-being or safe return of a loved one. During this time, prayers are kept private and personal.
Traditionally, the tables have a three-stepped display representing the Holy Trinity. The foods presented on the table are plentiful. No meat is served because the holiday falls during Lent. InItaly, the custom was kept the homes. When families crossed the Atlantic, they carried their traditions along. Today there are both public and private St. Joseph's tables; most of the food is donated or shared with other families. Although each table may be somewhat different, each will display an effigy of Joseph holding Jesus.
The St. Joseph's table is adorned with flowers and fruit as well as traditional peasant style foods including braided bread and fava beans. Breadcrumbs are sometimes added to dishes to represent sawdust which commemorates Joseph's work as a carpenter. For dessert traditional zeppole, cannoli and fig cookies are presented.
The immigrants from Poggioreale, like most Sicilians, brought their special ways of creating their St. Joseph tables. We will be sharing videos, books, articles and photos to demonstrate the many tables and displays as they are celebrated in Bryan, TX, New Orleans, Chicago, and other places in America wherever Poggiorealesi are found.
TEXAS TAVOLA (2007)
Filmed in Bryan, TX
Depicted above is Vancie Todaro of Bryan, TX whose St. Joseph Table is featured in the full video.
In order to view the full, 34-minute video,
entitled "Texas Tavola (2007),"
please click on the following URL Link:
Videos about St. Joseph Tables
This heartfelt documentary by Circe Sturm
examines the Tavola di San Giuseppe, an important religious event at which a single Sicilian-American family honors the Sicilian tradition of holding St. Joseph Tables. The Todaros of Bryan, TX who are descended from Poggioreale, Sicily, hosted almost 1,000 guests in honor of St. Joseph.
Both anthropologically and visually, the event is remarkable to witness, with hundreds of hand-made breads and cakes, elaborate religious rituals, and beautiful prayers spoken in Sicilian dialect with a Texas accent. Our film traces their tradition to three small villages in Western Sicily—Poggioreale, Salaparuta, and Corelone. With rare historic photos and traditional Sicilian music complementing the video footage, it explores the tavola’s deep importance to Sicilian-American communities in East Texas. These communities have often been overlooked as part of the Italian-American experience, but their vibrancy and a sense of Italianità remain strong even after three generations in the Lone Star state.
Books and Articles Written about St. Joseph Tables
A great deal has been written about St. Joseph Tables over the years. We would like to present the following listofbooks and articles. Feel free to send us more publications of which you might be aware!
St. Joseph Altar: Faith Family Food by Vancie Todaro and family members, March 22, 2015.
This booklet is a treasure trove of St. Joseph altar history, traditions, ceremonies, prayers and foods (some with recipes!) as celebrated by the Poggioreale descendants of immigrants John Palazzotto (Palasota) and Rosario Todaro. It also presents the original poetry written by John Palazzotto when he still lived in Sicily that is read to this very day in Poggioreale each St. Joseph's Day.
Celebrating St. Joseph Altars: The History, Recipes, and Symbols of a New Orleans Tradition by Sandra Scalise Juneau, 2021.
As a child, Sandra grew up with her family's devotion to St. Joseph and celebrating their traditions. The indelible impression of the amazing aromas in her maternal grandmother's kitchen never left her! We are glad that they eventually led her to publish this book in 2021. The recipes included, which have withstood the tests of taste and time, are those brought from Poggioreale by her maternal grandmother, and have been converted for contemporary kitchen-size use.