This article is written from the perspective of a Sicilian-American watching the devastating news from Italy day after day.
Italians relish and love traditions. One of those traditions has to do with the traditions that all Italians partake in regarding funerals and the veneration of their deceased loved one.
I know from my own Sicilian family here in New Orleans, funerals are a time for everyone to come together and celebrate a life well lived. Of course a lot of kissing and hugging occurs.
With the news out of Italy that the Government has banned all funerals, I would think this only adds to the feelings of despair for all Italians. Unable to follow their traditions for burial must only add to the pain in losing a loved one- a loved one who most likely died in isolation.
I pray with our Pope that this pandemic leaves not only Italy but our entire world and that once again we can all enjoy all of our traditions.
Author – New Orleans
I know. Today doesn’t seem like a day to celebrate with the dire warnings on our news and our new reality we currently find ourselves. But maybe, just maybe, because of what we are facing, we need to celebrate today even a little more.
Which brings us to St. Joseph’s day and which is always a particularly well celebrated feast in New Orleans.
Many centuries ago, there was a great famine in Sicily. The Sicilians prayed to their patron Saint, Saint Joseph, the husband of Mary. The famine ended and in celebration, the Sicilians created displays giving thanks to their Saint. The tradition continued every year thereafter on March 19th, the feast day of St. Joseph.
When the Sicilian immigrants came to New Orleans, they brought that tradition with them.
For a traditional altar, the altar is built on three levels, representing the Blessed Trinity. A statue or photo of St. Joseph and sometimes the Holy Family — Jesus, Mary, Joseph, is placed on the highest tier. The altar is lavishly covered with prepared dishes, fish, fruit, vegetables, flowers, candles and wine, set strategically and artistically around the altar. Traditionally, the altars do not include meat because the feast day usually falls during Lent.
A St. Joseph Altar is all about the food, but with symbolism, which reflects faith and tradition.
Bread is shaped like crosses, Joseph’s staff, and his carpenter’s tools, including saws, hammers, and ladders. (St. Joseph’s bread is believed to have special powers. Throwing a morsel into a storm is believed to have the power to calm the winds. A piece kept in the house is supposed to ensure that the family will never be without food. A breadcrumb topping called mudrica, is sprinkled on pasta Milanese, representing the sawdust of the carpenter.)
Other symbolic foods include cakes shaped like lambs and covered in coconut, which represent the sacrifice of Christ. You’ll also find pastries formed like the pierced heart of the Mater Dolorosa, pignolatti resembling the pine cones Jesus is said to have played with as a child, whole fish symbolizing the Miracle of Multiplication, and wine recalling the feast at Cana. Swiping a lemon from the altar ensures one will meet the person you are destined to marry before the next St. Joseph’s Day, and each visitor takes away a dry, roasted fava bean for good luck. Fava beans are particularly associated with St. Joseph because they sustained the Sicilians throughout famine. Pick some up for good luck!
As we move through the next few days, lets all pray for our world and thank of the day we can all celebrate again together.
Chip LoCoco, New Orleans author
Excited to announce I just agreed with a producer to make my new novel, Saving the Music, an Audiobook on Audible. Bob Neufeld will provide his stunning voice characterizations to bring my novel to life.
Today, in Vatican City, scholars will be able to access the Secret Vatican Archives where they will be able to study documents from the Pontificate of Pope Pius XII during the WWII years.
This is very significant as the Pope’s response to the Holocaust has been severely criticized during the years. There are basically two sides. The anti-Pius side says that the Pope was too diplomatic, too concerned about protecting the Church than speaking out against Nazism and the Holocaust. The Pro-Pius side counters that the Pope did more behind the scenes in saving the Jews than anyone else. And when he did speak out, the Germans knew exactly to whom he was referring.
Time will tell what the archives will show. My best guess is this. Depending on where you fall in the argument, there will be documents to use to support that position. It all comes down to a matter of interpretation and spin.
Author of Saving the Music.