Thursday, March 19, 2015

Our 20,000th Page View! This Day In New Orleans History

Blogger's Note: In honor of an amazing 20,000 page views we take a look back at This Day In New Orleans History.  March 19th is St. Joseph’s Day in Louisiana. While this holiday isn’t widely acknowledged in the US, it is celebrated in New Orleans in a big way.

(Above): A traditional example of a St. Joseph's Day Alter.  These altars are put up a couple of days before St. Joseph’s Day, and this time period is called the Feast of St. Joseph.

From the New Orleans Online website:
March 19th marks the Catholic celebration of St. Josephs Day where Catholic New Orleanians construct elaborate altars in honor of this saint. The tradition, commemorating the relief St. Joseph provided during a famine in Sicily, began in the late 1800’s when Sicilian immigrants settled in New Orleans. Today, St. Joseph’s day is not just for Italian-Americans. Every year, this celebration offers New Orleans natives and visitors a chance to share food with others and for believers, a way to express gratitude for any sort of fortune in their lives.

(Above):   To honor St. Joseph the carpenter, much of the food includes breadcrumbs, representing sawdust. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph's Day custom. 

St. Joseph altars, representing the Holy Trinity, are divided into three sections with a statue of St. Joseph at the head. The devout place candles, figurines, flowers, medals and other items around the alter creating a beautiful, lush and overflowing effect. Since the altars thank St. Joseph for relieving hunger, offerings of food are essential. 

Cookies, cakes and breads, often in the form of shell fish, are common decorations for alatars. Fava beans, or “lucky beans” are particularly associated with St. Joseph because they sustained the Sicilians throughout famine. Pick some up for good luck! As tradition has it, the altar is broken up on St. Joseph’s day with a ceremony of costumed children, pretending to look for shelter, finding sustenance at the altar. Food and donations are then distributed to the poor. 

 Fava Beans... My pa mixes these with vinegar, olive oil and fresh herbs and we nibble while we drink

(Above): Fava Beans for St. Joseph's Day The fava bean plays a role on the feast of St. Joseph and the tradition of the Altar or Table for March 19. 
St. Joseph’s Day Parade
Hosted by the American Italian Marching club, one of the largest ethnic group organizations in the southeast, the annual St. Joseph’s day parade in the French Quarter is a local favorite. The evening begins with food, wine and Italian music followed by marchers dressed in black tuxedos proceeding to parade until dark. Receive silk flowers and fava beans or dance and sing the hours away with enthusiastic bystanders. 


(Above): Fig cookies!  The altars contain many food items, especially baked goods like cookies and breads. They are constructed to pay homage to St. Joseph and to show gratitude for the abundance they’re able to share with the community via these altars.

Join the Celebration
Altars are found at local New Orleans churches, especially those with strong Italian roots, but they are also constructed in private homes, halls, Italian restaurants, and public spaces in different communities throughout the city. The Times Picayune, a local newspaper, usually reveals a week in advance where the archdiocese of New Orleans will host altars with visiting hours and food services. Some popular places for a guaranteed look include the St. Louis Cathedral at Jackson Square and the St. Joseph church on Tulane Avenue by the Italian Renaissance Museum. And if you happen to see a fresh green branch over a local’s doorway, it means you’re invited to participate in the ceremony and to share the food. 

(Above): A modern example of a St. Joseph's Day alter.

Sicilians and Mardi Gras Indians
The tradition traces its roots back to a wave of Sicilian immigration to New Orleans in1880. While many US cities have large Italian-American populations, few have as direct a line to Sicily as New Orleans does –one could say St. Joseph’s Day traditions are unique to the Crescent City’s culture. Although the reasons are unclear, St. Joseph’s Day has also been adopted as an important day for the Mardi Gras Indians, an African-American tradition unique to New Orleans. The Super Sunday Mardi Gras Indian parade the Sunday after St. Joseph’s Day is an event you will not want to miss!