Many aspects of traditional life seem to have fared better among Sicilians than among other regional Italians. Sicilians still dance the tarantella, sing dialect songs informally, practice their folk religious rituals and regional cuisine. As one Sicilian, Virginia Buscemi Carlson, passionately affirms: "without our traditions, there would be nothing left: we would be just like everyone else." It may be no coincidence therefore, that more than one cultural group exists for Sicilians in Los Angeles (Arba Sicula and Sicilia Culturale [See: CLUBS AND ASSOCIATIONS). The feast day of St. Joseph's in Los Angeles features a notable Sicilian custom: St. Joseph's Day Tables. This custom has not only been maintained through two and three generations largely intact, but actually shows some signs of crossing ethnic and religious boundaries. In 2005, for example, a Table was be offered at All Saints Episcopal Church (in conjunction with Slow Food and Sustainable World), in Pasadena, as part of a food justice program.
St. Joseph's Tables
"The mid-Lenten Sicilian custom of the St. Joseph's Table, often lasting as many as three days (St. Joseph's feast day is March 19), is widely celebrated in Los Angeles, as in many other areas of diaspora Sicilian settlement.
St. Joseph's "table" normally includes a devotional altar with a statue of the saint holding the infant Jesus, rising (or separate) from a table, blessed by a priest. The table is laden with elaborate food offerings of traditional braided breads, vegetables, fruits, and sweets. The ritual collection of these foods by begging (the questua) from family, friends, even strangers, is a necessary aspect of offering an altar.
offered by Celestino Drago to the 1998 table
at the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum
The large braided breads (cudureddi) are typically in the form of cross, crown (for Jesus), staff (for Joseph), palm (for Mary), while the smaller breads may symbolize instruments of the Passion, or even fanciful shapes such as sun, moon, stars, flowers, birds, and so forth. Vegetables include fried or stuffed cauliflower, artichokes, zucchine, eggplant, cardoons, frittate (omelettes) of every sort: fava bean, asparagus, peas, peppers, while the season's finest first fruits are arranged in baskets replicating cornucopias of plenty. Since this feast falls within the meatless Lenten season, fish is featured, as are traditional Sicilian sweets such as persiche (cream-filled pasteries made to look like peaches), cassadini (sweet ravioli), sfingi, cannoli, and fig cookies.
Many continue to be private devotional tables, promised to the saint to secure favor for a loved one who is sick or in some special need, or in response to a prayer which has been granted, to honor one's namesake, or as a general "Sicilian Thanksgiving." Increasingly, however, tables are becoming public or semi-public events, held in a church (often affiliated with the Italian Catholic Federation, ICF [see: RELIGION]), banquet hall, retirement home, or family business.
Women singing: members of the St. Joseph's
Guild of Mary Star of the Sea Church, San Pedro,
singing a novena at the opening of the Table
at the UCLA Armand Hammer Museum, 1998
Priest blessing the St. Joseph's Table,
at the exhibition's opening
You can participate in these festivities in several places around town: at Casa Italiana (affiliated with St. Peter's Italian Church, 1039 North Broadway), at many churches affiliated with the Italian Catholic Federation, as well as at Mary Star of the Sea church in San Pedro (870 8th St.), where one of the most fully-articulated celebrations occurs, including a special mass, a procession with saint, followed by children in costume, a marching band, guilds, societies, and confraternities, and ending in a large banquet. It was at this church that the first public table ever given in the Los Angeles area was held in 1958, according to Charles Speroni, one of the first to study St. Joseph Tables in Southern California. The church's own St. Joseph Guild, comprised of approximately 35 (largely Sicilian) women, whose yearly task it is to organize the public charity event and feed hundreds from the church kitchen, celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1998.
Children in costume during the procession
around Mary Star of the Sea Church
in San Pedro on St. Joseph's day, 1999
[Excerpt from: Luisa Del Giudice, "Joseph Among the Angels: St Joseph's Tables and Feeding the Poor in Los Angeles," exhibition program, exhibition co-curated by Luisa Del Giudice and Virginia Buscemi Carlson, UCLA at the Armand Hammer Museum and Cultural Center, March 18-19, 1998.All Rights Reserved]
St. Joseph's Tables
Check the calendar section of l'Italo-Americano in March for other public St. Joseph's Day Tables around the Southland.http://www.italoamericano.com/calendar.htm
Procession entering Mary
Star of the Sea Church
on St. Joseph's day, 1999
870 8th St.
San Pedro, CA
St. Peter's Church, Casa Italiana
1051 N. Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
Fax: 323-225-0085 www.Stpeterschurchla.org
Italian Catholic Federation
Italian Catholic Federation
c/o St. Francis Xavier Parish
3801 Scott Road
Burbank, CA 91504
Father Bizzotto, blessing a St. Joseph's Table
(given by the Patrons of Italian Culture),
at the Istituto Italiano di Cultura in 2003.
Photo by Sarah Walzer
St. Raymond's Parish
12348 Paramount Blvd.
Tel: (562) 869-7024
Speroni, Charles."Observance of St. Joseph's Day Among the Sicilians of Southern California." Southern Folklore Quarterly 4.3 (1940): 135-139.
"Southern California File," column by Rosanne Keynan, Los Angeles Times, Mar 11, 1995. p.5
From the IOHI Archives: "The Development of Italian Womenís Identity" by Erica Turley, student project [Includes: 1) 14-page typescript, 2) summary outline of audio cassette; 3) Photo Album ("Rosalia Orlandoís Altars": 15 photos: La Madonna del Ponte, Unknown saint, Rosalia & Giuseppe Orlando's wedding, interview, Rosalia and her mother, Giuseppa La Fata, Paolina Manzella, Founders of San Pedro's Saint Joseph's Table: Mrs. Giusenie Dukie, Nunzia díOrio, Paolina Manzella, Rosaria Lo Grande, Giuseppa La Fata, Procession of St. Joseph, St. Joseph's Table, Giuseppe, Rosalia and Carlo as Holy Family; 5 prayer/saints' cards); 4) 2- 90-min. audio cassettes with Rosalia Orlando, La Fata, Manzella (June 8, 1999)]; Videos: St. Joseph's Day Tables, 1 VHS home video, St. Joseph's Church, Los Angeles, March 18, 1990 [videographer: Ken Carlson]; St. Joseph's Day Tables, 1 VHS home video (videographer: Ken Carlson); St. Joseph's Day Tables, Casa Italiana, 1995, VHS video (videographer Steve Weimeyer); Celebrazione di San Giuseppe (St. Joseph's celebration), Dinner dance, Casa Italiana, n.d.; Radio program: St. Joseph's Day Tables, Luisa Del Giudice, interviewed by Evan Kleiman, KCRW program "Good Food," April 8, 2000; audio cassette.
From the IOHI Archives: "Sicilian Festivals in Los Angeles" Jennifer Pendergrass, UCLA student project, June 14, 1999 [Includes: 1) 22-page typescript, tape transcript; 2) 90-min audio cassette, interview with Virginia Buscemi Carlson]
"I Santi" (the Saints), St. Joseph's Day,
St. Peterís Church, 2005
Part of the St. Josephís Table at Casa Italiana,
with woven palm-fronds (Palm Sunday coincided with St. Joseph's feast day, March 19, 2005)
Immacolata Attolico selling
St. Joseph's candles, as she has
done at Casa Italiana for decades
Detail from the St. Josephs
Table given at the UCLA
Hammer Museum, 1998
The St. Joseph's Table at Casa
Mr & Mrs. Vaccaro in front of their
private St. Joseph's altar (1995). The
Vaccaros gave an annual table in San Pedro
for over 20 years