By Lara Pickford-Gordon
The Solemnity of St Joseph, St Joseph’s Day is celebrated in Colombia Día de San José, on the Monday closest to March 19. It is a regional holiday in parts of Spain and Switzerland. St Joseph is the patron saint of Canada and Poland, his day is Dzien Swietego Jozefa.
The Feast of St Joseph (La Festa Di San Giuseppe) is celebrated in Italy, and persons named Joseph or Josephine enjoy their onomastico—name day, with family and friends and partake of cake or pastries (orderisda.org).
Sicilians took St Joseph as their patron because the saint is believed to have prevented a terrible drought from causing widespread famine. The residents prayed to him for rain and it came, so their spring crops were saved.
No meat is consumed because the day fell during Lent, but breadcrumbs “poor man’s parmigiano” was served with food. The breadcrumbs represent sawdust seen in the carpenter’s workshop, and because St Joseph was a carpenter. Another tradition is to create an altar or ‘St Joseph’s Table’. It was erected in homes, church halls and cafés. The table is filled with food and gifts as an offering in thanksgiving for answered prayers. A statue of St Joseph stands at the head of the table.
This tradition was carried to New Orleans in the 1800s with Sicilian immigrants to the United States. A parade is held on St Joseph’s Day.
Holiday from Lent
Here in Trinidad and Tobago, we have our own traditions which hark back to when Lent influenced the social practices of wider society. The Catholic News got a few perspectives on the past.
Chair of the Catholic Commission for Social Justice, Leela Ramdeen said, “Catholics in T&T had more reverence during Lent than exists today. The traditions of our Church were embedded in the lives of many in my mother’s generation.”
She added: “Confession/the Sacrament of Reconciliation was a normal part of life for a Catholic in those days. Every other week, my mother would drive all her children to church to go to confession. Looking back, we children would not have had many sins to confess so regularly but, it was part of our faith.”
Things change with the passage of time and it sounded strange when my mother said there were fetes on St Joseph’s Day. Brass bands providing music at the popular liming spots in those days—Perseverance Club in Maraval, Chinese Association, St Ann’s, and Palm Beach, Carenage.
Fr Michael Cockburn said St Joseph’s Day “was seen as the great holiday from Lent”. He said Masses of saints did not happen, but the feast day or Solemnity of St Joseph was the exception. He said as a solemnity, it is the highest-ranking type of feast day.
“That was when they could play calypsoes without telling about it in confession. You could sing Calypsoes…there was a freedom of spirit.” Fr Cockburn vividly remembers at 13 years walking along Park Street heading to St Mary’s College and the reaction to the loud playing of Calypso at a café. “A fussy old woman passed me on the street, I heard her muttering and steupsing saying ‘what is this world coming to, big Lent and all this set of music’, the woman was upset.”
Fr Cockburn said the late Archbishop Anthony Pantin “knew the culture” and this was why he chose St Joseph’s Day for his ordination in 1968. “There would be quite a lot of ceremony, a big fancy Mass”.
Ramdeen recounted a memory: “We children used to enjoy this break and would sing Calypsoes quietly, as my parents did not like us to sing Calypsoes. People would also dance/fete on this day. People could also eat meat on this day, but my family gave up meat for the entire Lenten period. And since my father was Hindu and did not eat meat, our family hardly ate meat anyhow.” Calypsoes were heard “being blasted in nearby houses”. For the Lenten period, her mother sewed dresses in white or lilac for her four daughters and on St Joseph’s Day they wore “brighter colours” such as red.
The Ramdeen family headed to the Manzanilla beach on the feast day. “My mother would cook up a storm and we would spend the day there. Persons from far and wide would also go to the beach to celebrate the day and one could hear Calypsoes playing on radios in cars or watch people on the beach playing bottle and spoon and singing Calypsoes. But as evening fell and we returned home, our night prayers together would focus on returning to our Lenten practices.”
Francois Laurent, a former teacher said: “For that one day you were free from all the promises you had made for Lent. I would usually give up cinema shows and sweets. I do not recall anything else because we were far from being affluent.” He does not recall eating meat on St Joseph’s Day and Wednesdays and Fridays were days of fasting and abstinence. Laurent remembered the pupils of St Joseph Convent had a day off on St Joseph’s Day.
Many Catholics refrain from consuming meat during Lent, some on the Fridays and others for the whole period. According to Canon 1251: “Abstinence from meat, or from some other food as determined by the Episcopal Conference, is to be observed on all Fridays, unless a solemnity should fall on a Friday. Abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.”
This year the Solemnity of St Joseph fell on a Friday so eating meat was allowed. May 1 is another feast day dedicated to St Joseph, as the patron saint of workers.