And, let me tell you, what a week. March 17 is the feast of Saint Patrick, while March 19 is the feast of Saint Joseph. Both men are storied in different cultural traditions, one Irish and the other Italian. But since both are rooted in ancient Christianity, they are sacred, surrounded by myth and legend and both are celebrated in the finest way…with food!
Saint Patrick is the Patron Saint of Ireland. Although little is really known about his life there are certain parts of it which are based in history. Born to a wealthy Roman-British family although his actual birthplace is unknown, Patrick’s family was deeply involved in Christianity. His father, Calpurnia, was a deacon and his grandfather, Potitus, was a priest. Patrick however was not a religious person. At the age of sixteen it is said that he was kidnapped by Irish pirates and brought to Ireland where he was enslaved and held captive for six years. It was during that time that his religious roots took hold. He later wrote in his Confessions that the Lord took pity on him and gave him the opportunity to convert to Christianity. One day he heard a voice telling him that he would be going home. He escaped and made his 200 miles to a port where he persuaded the captain to take him. After three days sailing they landed in Britain and walked inland for 28 days. Now weak and starving, Patrick prayed for sustenance and was rewarded for his faith by finding a herd of wild boar. This was taken as a sign by the other men and his prestige grew. He continued praying and embraced the religious life.
After studying on the mainland Patrick was ordained a priest by Saint Germanus of Auxerre and acting on a vision he returned to Ireland where he was able to convert many, including many rich and influential women to Christianity, and ordained many priests. His work among the druids, the wealthy rulers of Ireland is notable here because he is often seen as the saint who drove the snakes out of Ireland. The snake reference is likely a veiled one as snakes were not typically seen in Ireland and most probably refers to these druids.
Many things are associated with Saint Patrick’s life which over the years has been the stuff of legends. From Shamrocks to Saint Patrick Crosses, from a walking stick that grew into a living tree to “talks” with his Irish ancestors, his legend grew and still does in the annals of Irish History. But basically, this is a story of a good man, driven by faith and a belief, who dedicated his life to his people, and in service to his God. He is generally thought to have died on March 17th and his feast has been celebrated on that day since the early part of the 17th century.
Saint Joseph’s Day, La Festa di San Giuseppe, is a feast celebrated on March 19. Although little is known of his early life, what is known about him is that he was the husband of Mary and the foster or earthly father of Jesus. He is also the patron saint of workers and the month of March is dedicated to him. Joseph is generally thought of as a carpenter and this is mentioned once in the Bible. However his original job description is that of a “tekton” which describes a man of many skills not only in wood, but also in precious metals. Also in the Talmud, a carpenter is considered more of a wise and highly literate man. The Eastern Orthodox Church holds that Joseph was a widower, later betrothed to Mary. When it was discovered that Mary was with child, yet unmarried, this was considered a major sin and often punishable by death. But the story goes that Joseph was visited by an angel who explained the situation to him. Upon hearing this, Joseph married Mary and the biblical history known as the New Testament began.
Oddly, one of the legends surrounding him is that he was an expert donut maker who sold many of his donuts to the occupying Roman Soldiers.I guess this is where the tradition of the Saint Joseph’s Day pastries got started.
There is no mention in the Bible of his death, but it is generally assumed that he died before Jesus assumed his public life. Mary is often dressed as a widow and it just seems like Joseph really disappeared very early in Jesus’ life. However, there is one account of his peaceful death in the presence of both Mary and Jesus at the age of 111. This account first shows up in the 17th century in The History of Joseph the Carpenter, written in the 5th or 6th century.
So, there you have it. Two different men, two different lives lived in different times both of whom have an enormous influence on today. Both are venerated, as they should be and whether you fancy corned beef and cabbage or zeppoli and sfingi there is a gastronomical delight which awaits you. AAAH! But here is my advantage. I grew up Italian, and with my name being Joseph, I was assured of not only having pastries on my name day, but I got the second biggest one, after my grandfather. On the other hand, my wife is half Irish. And since her father was as proud of his Irish heritage as he could be, she got the corned beef. As for me? I get them both. Anne Marie! Come on! THE QUIET MAN is on! And bring the zeppoli’s and black coffee.
ERIN GO BRAGH! and BUONA FESTA di SAN GIUSEPPE everybody. Time to eat.