March 19th was the Feast of Saint Joseph and also fittingly was also Father’s Day in Italy. Christians believe that Joseph was the father of Jesus and the wife of Saint Mary. While many predominantly Catholic nation’s celebrate this day, the day is especially important in Italy and specifically the region of Sicily. The Sicilian tradition, the Saint Joseph Table (la travel di San Giuseppe) has been celebrated since the middle ages. The origins of the table come from a time when the island was suffering a severe drought. The people of Sicily appealed to Saint Joseph (their Patron Saint) to intercede on their behalf for rain. When the rains returned, Sicilians began having an elaborate feast on St. Joesph’s Day as a show of gratitude.
It is very much a community celebration as each family in the villages, or church Parrish would each bring a dish to be put on a shared table. All types of foods can be found on the table with the exceptions of meat (the celebration occurs during Lent) and no sesame coated bread in symbolic shapes. (This one seemed odd, I was told that sesame seeds are symbolic of sawdust and are allowed on bread but just not ones that have a sacred context)
Aside from bread, pastries and phenomenally tasty Italian Cookies, other foods include fish (especially sardines) and other seafood dishes, salads, pasta con sarde and dishes featuring Olives. One of the most delicious is egg frittata. (egg dishes symbolize the coming Easter season).
Many churches have a banquet during the showing of the tables. The food doesn’t usually come off the tables but is served in the Parrish Dining Hall. You are also given some uncooked fava beans, but you don’t eat them but save them for good fortune.
The tables are indeed visually stunning but also have a practical purpose as the excess food is given to charity after everyone has been provided for. Everyone is welcome regardless of your faith (or lack of). The table signifies God’s grace and abundance.