By Maria Teresa Morrison
As I entered our church early one recent morning, I saw a portrait near the main altar of St. Joseph holding the Baby Jesus. I was captivated by its beauty and tenderness and after the service, I approached the portrait to read the inscription below it: “Pope Francis Proclaims December 8, 2020-2021 – the Year of Saint Joseph: Patron of the Universal Church (via Pope Pius IX), a model for All in our lives of Faith.”
The pontiff directs us to follow St. Joseph’s “creatively courageous” example as a tender and obedient father who welcomes the will of God, and teaches the value, dignity and joy of work.
All this is taken to heart by Italians who have traditionally honored St. Joseph as the Patron Saint of Family, but who also protects orphans, unwed mothers, the needy and the homeless. To celebrate his feast day (March 19) families throughout Italy and worldwide create an altar/table and an elaborate ritual meal. The priest blesses the meal, and members of the community of all social levels are invited to partake.
La Tavola di San Giuseppe (Saint Joseph’s Table) is a tradition that started in southern Italy, not only in Sicily, but also in Apuglia and Abruzzo, where it is still celebrated and known as La Mattredda. Special breads and sweets (fritelle, zeppole) are prepared. The zeppole eaten in Umbria, Florence and eastern Sicily are often made with rice flour, while those of Sardinia, Lazio and Campania and points south, are based on wheat flour.
Every region has its own story of the recipe, name of the pastry and who inspired it, just as every region or town (paese) may have its own patron saint.