Welcome to another letter assignment from Mrs. Matlock at Alphabe-Thursday. Our current lesson is on the letter "I" which touches my heart in many ways. I'm Sicilian (Italian) and I was raised in a close-knit Italian family in a close-knit Italian community in Rockford, IL. I went to the same Catholic elementary school as my mother, and my entire Italian family (aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, etc.) attended the same Catholic church which was the hub of the beloved Italian community.The letter "I" happens to coincide with an Italian tradition that is celebrated every March 19! The patron saint of Sicily is St. Joseph (San Giuseppe) who is honored every March 19. Celebrating St. Joseph's Day goes back to the Middle Ages when Sicily was in the middle of a severe drought. The Italian people prayed to God through St. Joseph asking for rain so that the crops could be planted. The rain did come and the people promised to have a feast (festa) to show their gratitude for a successful planting season.
As a child I remember going to several tables/altars honoring St. Joseph. There was much celebrating with tons of traditional Italian foods placed on three tiers of tables which was symbolic of the Holy Trinity. A statue of St. Joseph holding the baby Jesus was placed on one table along with lighted votive candles, vases of wheat, flowers, breads and sweets. No meats were ever prepared or served because St. Joseph's day falls in the middle of the Lenten season. Many of the vegetable dishes were prepared with bread crumbs symbolizing the sawdust of St. Joseph's profession.
There is a story in our family that tells of my Uncle Pat, who was always a timid little boy, wanting to go visit St. Joseph altars with some family friends. My grandparents agreed to let him go as long as he kept up with the rest of the group. Apparently everyone was having a wonderful time at the altars and somehow my uncle was separated from the main group. He wasn't worried as he could follow other groups visiting altars he hadn't seen yet. Unfortunately he followed a group that went into a house that was having a wake for a loved one instead of an altar celebration! Back then the Italians kept the body of their deceased relative in the home until the day of the burial! Needless to say my uncle was a bit freaked out by the whole thing and didn't visit another altar until early adulthood. Here is a vintage photo of my Uncle Pat (as an adult) standing in front of a St. Joseph altar.
My daughter was born on March 19, and the first words out of my mother's mouth were, "She was born on St. Joseph's Day, how nice"!
I hope you all enjoyed this Italian cultural lesson and please visit other participants here.
This is linked back to Alphabe-Thursday for the letter "I".