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  • St. Joseph's Day Is Father's Day in Italy

    Discover how people across the Boot celebrate one of the most popular saints
    Our Paesani

    By Francesca Di Meglio

    Italian men don't wait to celebrate fatherhood in June like we Americans. Instead, they feast on St. Joseph's Day, March 19. To understand why they choose this day to honor papà (dad in Italian) is simple really.

    San Giuseppe, as Italians call the saint, was Jesus' step dad. He was Mary's husband, and the two famously traveled to Bethlehem together when Jesus was born. Many a child – in Italy and around the world – has donned a robe to play Joseph in the annual Christmas pageant. It's really a rite of passage. Joseph's family lineage, as described in the Gospels, can be traced back to King David.

    Joseph reportedly learned Mary was already pregnant after they wed. He originally divorced her quietly, so she would not be stoned to death, according to Biography. But then an angel came to him to explain she was a virgin who experienced an immaculate conception, so she could birth the King, who would become known as Christianity's savior. So, Joseph took the angel's word and returned to Mary.

    Still, Giuseppe is rarely mentioned in the Bible. We know that he was described as a carpenter. Many believe he was the one to have taught Jesus this trade. One pope apparently made May 1 as the Feast of St. Joseph the Worker to counter the communist holiday May Day. Indeed, Italians celebrate May 1 as Labor Day, too.

    Regardless, however, March 19 remains the feast of St. Joseph, the saint. Southern Italians take saint days seriously. Anyone with the name Giuseppe or Giuseppina or Giusi or Beppe will receive greetings and salutations from friends and family. Those with the name will buy pastries or other sweet treats for colleagues in the office or classmates at school. Children with the name might have a party similar to that of a birthday. Their parents and nonni might give them a little gift. Close family members will pull the honored member's ears, a strange tradition but one that continues.

    Towns who have St. Joseph as their patron saint will have a festival that includes fried zeppole, games, and marching through the streets led by a group of strong men carrying a heavy, large statue of Giuseppe on their shoulders. The people may sing or recite prayer. They may tie a ribbon around the statue and have believers pin money for the Church to it. These kinds of feasts happen in Italy most often, but many Italian Americans have carried on these traditions in the United States, too, for whichever patron saint holds special meaning for them.

    The difference between Joseph and the others is his saint's day is not only for celebrating those named after him. His is also about fatherhood. Kids bestow gifts and attention on their fathers on March 19. The family might have a special meal. Because the holiday is much more widespread than most saint's days, it includes a special dessert. St. Joseph's zeppole are a staple of the day in Italy and the United States. People await devouring the fried dough topped with cream and a cherry every year. (The baked versions are not bad either, but my family prefers the fried ones. C'mon now.)

    So, make sure to buy your father a zeppole, wish him "auguri," write him a card and give him another crazy tie or talking fish. If your papÓ is no longer with us, then look at photos, reminisce, and send best wishes up to Heaven. After all, it's San Giuseppe Day, it's father's day.

    Di Meglio has written the Our Paesani column for ItaliansRus.com since 2003. You can follow the Italian Mamma on Facebook or Twitter @ItalianMamma10.

    Article Published 3/19/18

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