St. Joseph’s Feast Day, A Sicilian Tradition Alive in Queens

Happy St. Joseph’s Day!!!

My hunch is that you’ve most likely heard of St. Patrick’s Day but St. Joseph’s Day? Not so much.

As the husband of Mary and the foster-father of Jesus, St. Joseph is the patron saint of families and heads of families, workers, and for a peaceful death. We know very little about his life according to the Gospel texts but the small bits of information we do have indicate a life where he had to make some pretty tough decisions. It has been argued that he lived in an age of anxiety, much like we do today.

Popular lore says that Sicilians beseeched St. Joseph for rain during a severe drought in the Middle Ages. In response to answered prayers, they celebrated his feast day on March 19 by attending Mass and preparing a table filled with an abundance of food. This table has come to be known as a St. Joseph’s Altar, full of loaves of bread and baked goods shaped into popular Christian symbols. It also includes wine, fish, and other symbols that typically represent St. Joseph such as lilies, hammers, and nails. Even breadcrumbs may be found on the table representing the sawdust of a carpenter. Meat is absent from the altar because the feast day falls during the season of Lent when Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays. Altars are a physical space used to create a connection between the human and divine worlds. In this case, believers use the St. Joseph altar to place a petition or give thanks for prayers answered.  This tradition arrived in America with the Sicilian immigrants but it has spread to other ethnic groups who are interested in celebrating St. Joseph.  In Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the creation of a St. Joseph altar is shared by many members of the Catholic community.

In my household, we celebrate St. Joseph’s Day for several reasons. My Italian-American husband is one-quarter Sicilian and he and many of his ancestors are named Joseph. Today, we eat a traditional dessert called Sfinge di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph’s cream puff), a puff pastry filled with either a vanilla custard or ricotta cream (think cannoli) filling.  To buy my pastries, I head to the quintessential Queens neighborhood known for its large Italian-American population, Howard Beach, home to American Idol contestant Pia Toscano and the late John Gotti, former head of the Gambino organized crime family.  Here, I go to Pasticceria La Torre for deliciously fresh and authentic Italian pastries and baked goods.  Their St. Joseph’s cakes are no exception (below left is one filled with vanilla custard and on the right is the one filled with ricotta cream)!

I also cook Pasta con Sarde or in Sicilian, Pasta chi Sardi, a traditional Sicilian pasta dish with sardines and fennel. It is said that wild fennel and sardines are abundant at this time of year all throughout the island. In Palermo, this dish is called Pasta di San Giuseppe in honor of St. Joseph.  The recipe I use is from Micheal Franco‘s blog, Live to Eat.

Buona Festa di San Giuseppe!

Pasticceria La Torre
158-12 Crossbay Boulevard
Howard Beach, NY  11414
(718) 843-2306

New York Times Travel Show 2012

Last weekend, the New York Times hosted its annual travel show at the Javits Center in New York City. Unlike most trade shows, this one dedicates one day to travel industry professionals and the following two days are open to the public. If you have never been to a travel show, and are interested in travel, I highly recommend that you attend at least one.  Here are a few things you could expect to help you prepare for the experience.

A Lot of Information
On the main convention floor, hundreds of booths are organized in a row by continent, then by country. In the case of the United States, booths are further broken down by state. Pamphlets, maps, and magazines containing endless information are piled high on tables with representatives standing at the ready for your questions. Some booths even hold contests to give away free trips or stays. Leave your information and a lucky winner’s name is drawn at an appointed time.

Throughout the day, attendees can participate in seminars that discuss a specific top of travel. These one-hour talks either have a panel of experts or only one speaker. Travel industry leaders like Arthur and Pauline Frommer of Frommer’s Travel Guides offered tips on the hottest travel spots for 2012. Travel Channel’s Samantha Brown, demystified the glamour of being a TV host by sharing some of her embarrassing moments while on the road. One seminar panel discussed African safaris while another panel gave tips for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) travel. I attended a particularly useful seminar on traveling to Cuba, now that the Obama administration has opened up person-to-person travel experiences for Americans wishing to visit Cuba.

Culture Exhibited
Your five senses may be assaulted when visiting individual booths since representatives do their best to let you experience the uniqueness of their country’s culture.

Sri Lanka, Barbados, and Ecuador are just a few countries that had a small group of performers in traditional clothing perform a dance routine.A weaver made baskets from scratch at the New Hampshire booth while a patient sand sculptor created a castle with his hands and a few tools at the New Jersey booth. A booth for Thailand gave away a small sample of Thai food and Morocco’s booth was a tall structure that reflected the dominant Islamic architecture of the country with its uniquely arched doorways and intricate carvings.  Even Sea World, an amusement park chain in the United States, had a diving tank for kids.

Hundreds of people attend the travel show so it can get crowded especially at popular seminars or booths. Prepare to manage the crowd you will meet in advance. Prior to arriving, look at the list of exhibitors and speakers for each day to determine which talks you would like to attend and booths you would like to visit. It is impossible to see and speak to every representative but if you prioritize the list of places you want to see, you’ll maximize your time rather than just aimlessly wandering. If you have questions about a particular place, jot them down for the representative.

With that said, be flexible with your agenda. If there are places that become more interesting when you are there, then explore and learn more about them!  For me, this country has become even more appealing in light of my recent occupational change.  The purpose of the NY Times Travel Show, and any travel show for that matter, is to help you dream about or plan a future trip or encourage you to visit a place you never considered seeing before. Hopefully, it will inspire you to pack your suitcase and hit the road!