I’m married to a Italian, no excuse me, a Sicilian, named Joseph. Now the upcoming week is important because less than a week from now, we’ll be celebrating St. Joseph’s Day (March 19), his “name day.”
New Orleans is and has always been a very Catholic city, and as we know, the Catholic faith is the predominant religion in Italy and Sicily (which, by the way is really different from the rest of Italy).
I was also raised Catholic and we celebrated our name day, but certainly not to the extent that Sicilians do.
My husband considers March 19 almost a birthday celebration. He receives congratulatory cards from his Aunt Jo in New York. It’s a big deal.
St. Joseph is obviously a major presence in the Catholic Church, him being the step-father of Jesus and the caretaker of Jesus’ mother. In Italy, St. Joseph is the patron saint, and Italians take St. Joseph’s patronage and protection very seriously.
In New Orleans we celebrate St. Joseph all over the city with St. Joseph Altars. Strangely enough, my Joseph, a 100% Sicilian to the core, had never heard of a St. Joseph’s Altar in Brooklyn, from whence he hales. Apparently the custom of the altars comes from a legend that there was a severe drought in Sicily; the faithful prayed to St. Joseph for rain, and St. Joseph interceded and the rains came. Ever since, Sicilians prepare a banquet to honor their beloved St. Joseph. The banquet has now evolved into the St. Joseph Altar that commemorates the promise the Sicilian people made. A big part of the St. Joseph Altars is a promise to feed the hungry, and there are many traditional foods that are included in the altars, including fava beans, “zeppole” pastries (sort of like a doughnut, topped with sugar), fig cookies, breads and other Italian delicacies. Since St. Joseph’s Day is typically during Lent, Catholic tradition says that all of the dishes are meatless.
New Orleans had so many Sicilian immigrants that at one time the French Quarter was known as Little Palermo, and obviously these people brought in their customs and traditions. Surprisingly, there are probably more St. Joseph’s altars in New Orleans than anywhere else.
I can remember going to many St. Joseph’s Altars when I was kid (when I was a fervent Catholic), and they were pretty astounding to see. Local photographer and author Kerri McCafferty even produced a book that demonstrates the splendor of the food display—which is distributed to feed the poor after the event.
This weekend, the tradition continues in New Orleans—along with St. Patrick’s Day Parades, Mardi Gras Indian Super Sunday and St. Joseph’s Day—and to add even more spice to the weekend—a run-off election day!
WWL Television published a list of all the St. Joseph’s Altars in the city.
No wonder so many people love this city: so many celebrations, so many cultures, so little time.
We are working feverishly on out two upcoming festival guides: the French Quarter Festival Souvenir Guide (out March 27) and the ultimate Jazz Fest Bible (street date April 21). Look for the French Quarter Fest issue on the Capital One Shuttle Busses, at FQF info booths, at the OffBeat booth near Jax Brewery, and of course, near our stage at the Old Mint, Brass Band Jam, that we are sponsoring with our partner Popeye’s Louisiana Kitchen.
Our Jazz Fest Bible will be distributed all over the city, and, of course, near Fairgrounds entrances, and we’ll have a big supply at the Seahorse Saloon at the corner of Fortin and Gentilly Boulevard, our Jazz Fest HQ for years.
Speaking of Jazz Fest: every year we look for a local artist to illustrate our cover (sshh, the cover subject is a secret for now), and this year, OffBeat’s cover artist is Tami Curtis, who has produced a couple of French Quarter Fest posters and many other gorgeous works of art. Tami has exhibited in the Contemporary Crafts area at Jazz Fest for many years, and her style is really distinctive.
I’m also excited to announce that Ms. Curtis is opening her very own gallery at 421 Frenchmen on our first floor. The gallery should be open before French Quarter Fest. Welcome to Frenchmen Street, Tami!