Feast of St. Joseph’s a time to share and remember

St. Patrick’s Day means celebration for the Irish and their friends. St. Joseph’s night means the sa

St. Patrick’s Day means celebration for the Irish and their friends.

St. Joseph’s night means the same for Italians and their pals. About 120 people are expected to participate in tonight’s “Festa di San Giuseppe” at the Sons of Italy Lodge in Rotterdam.

“The tradition in Italy is every year on March 19, they celebrate the feast of St. Joseph,” said Rotterdam’s Dolores Scalise, who is co-chairing the lodge’s buffet dinner with Joe Mastroianni.

The tradition honors St. Joseph, and recalls a time when Italians prayed to the saint during a dark time in the country’s history.

“During the Middle Ages, there was famine in Sicily,” said Louis Fazzone of Schenectady, president of the Sons of Italy, named locally after Gabriele D’Annunzio. “Many people starved, they couldn’t grow any crops. The people started to pray to St. Joseph to send them rain so they could grow their crops. Eventually, the rain came. They grew enough food and they planned a big feast to honor St. Joseph — he was the reason for making it rain.”

The dinner is simple by design. Tossed salad, braided bread, pasta with garbanzo beans, pasta with garlic and oil, greens and beans — “manestra” — and desserts like cookies and custard-filled “zeppole” are on the menu. “There is no meat served at the dinner because of the Lenten season,” Scalise said.

All foods will be cooked by Sons of Italy volunteers. The gathering at the lodge, at 2984 Hamburg St., begins at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $12.

Simple but meaningful

There are meanings behind the meal.

“The foods are meant to be simple,” Scalise said. “Especially in today’s world, we want people to remember how lucky we are to have all the things that we have and we should simplify things a little bit.”

Italians also make sure common foods are served to remember hardships suffered by their ancestors. It’s also a time to share — so St. Joseph’s Day brings families and their friends together.

“I remember when I was a kid in Herkimer, brought up in an immigrant family,” said Scalise, who hosts “Cooking With Dee” on Schenectady Public Access Television. “Every year, for the feast of St. Joseph, I was invited to this family home where they invited children only. They invited about 20 children to this St. Joseph’s dinner, they had the altar, they had the breads, they served a pasta with broccoli, the zeppole with custard. It was done for kids whose parents maybe didn’t have time for it, they might have been poor kids. The thing was to help people who didn’t have much and reflect back on the time that the Sicilians were having a hard time.”

Fazzone grew up in Italy and came to America at age 14.

“Over there, the festa of St. Joseph, the families would prepare the meals and invite all the neighbors, the people who probably didn’t have as much as they did,” he said. “They prepared a meal for everyone, that’s why they say it’s a poor person’s meal, because everyone was invited in — rich, poor, whatever.”

The altar at the front of the banquet room also carries significance. It is built in three tiers — a small, low table is first; a larger, slightly higher table is placed behind the first; and a still larger, taller table is third.

“It represents the Holy Trinity,” Scalise said.

Food and flowers

All tables will be loaded with food and flowers for the feast. People will notice the breads, baked in circular designs to represent Christ’s crown of thorns. Breads baked in curved shapes will remind diners of St. Joseph’s walking stick.

Scalise said Italians honoring St. Joseph will also be asked to remember people suffering in Japan, after last week’s devastating earthquake and tsunami.

“We’re going to have a basket where people can put whatever they want,” she said. “Hopefully, they will be very generous.”

The Italians will also wink to their Irish friends, and remind them that other people also believe in good luck.

“Fava beans will play an integral part of the celebration,” Scalise said. “It was the food that saved the Sicilians during the time of famine. It saved them from starvation and the bean is said to bring good luck.”

“We’re going to give one to each person to bring them home,” Scalise added. “They represent good luck in the home.”

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