St. Joseph Tables are often seen in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph on and around the Solemnity of St. Joseph on March 19. Below are some details on the history and symbolism of this tradition, which can be celebrated in your parish or at home.
Centuries ago, Sicily, the big island off the southern tip of Italy, suffered drought and famine. No rain fell and the crops withered and died. The people turned in prayer to their patron, San Giuseppe, St. Joseph, for relief. At long last, the clouds opened and all of Sicily rejoiced!
To show their gratitude, they prepared tables at home with special foods to honor St. Joseph and to share with the poor. Over time the traditional St. Joseph tables grew larger and more ornate, with many symbolic elements and becoming a parish community event.
Today, the tradition of St. Joseph tables are continued in a number of parishes within the diocese: after Mass, the decorated tables are blessed by the parish priest and the community is invited to view the table and share a meal. Baked treats and decorations from the table are sold and the proceeds go to those in need.
St. Joseph Table Symbolism
Many symbols can be found at a St. Joseph’s Table celebration, including:
The tables—usually a three-tiered display, representing the Holy Trinity, with a statue of St. Joseph on the top tier. A smaller table, set for the Holy Family, is placed at front. These tables are filled with displays of food, flowers, candles and ‘zepolle’ [Italian donuts]. Since St. Joseph’s feast falls during Lent, the food is traditionally meatless.
Bread crumbs on pasta—represent saw dust on the floor of St. Joseph’s workshop
Breads—baked in the shapes of carpenter’s tools, canes or chalices
Wine—recalls both the miracle at Cana and, with bread, the Last Supper
Red clothing— symbolizes charity and strength
Blessed fava beans—once considered cattle feed, fava beans survived the Sicilian drought and saved the people from starvation. It is believed that if these beans are carried in a coin purse or kept in a pantry all year, one is never without resources.
Communal meal and distribution or collection of food & alms—continues the tradition of celebrating God’s gifts and sharing resources with the poor
Celebrating in Your Parish or Home
St. Joseph Tables can be found in several parishes in the diocese around the feast of St. Joseph on March 19. While the COVID-19 pandemic has limited these celebrations, a list of socially-distanced events can be found on the Catholic Key website.
Celebrating at home is also a possibility, continuing the traditional elements of gratitude and prayer to St. Joseph, communal meal, giving to those in need and special foods for the feast.