This year marked the Cultural Center’s 14th annual celebration of the age-old tradition of the St. Joseph Altar (table). Several weeks of preparation were dedicated to constructing and decorating the many altars that lined the walls of the Cultural Center. Many volunteers also helped bake the many cookies and pastries that were served to those attending.
The festivities began on Friday, March 18th with the children’s “tupa-tupa” pageant ushering in the festivities. The pageant was followed by the blessing of the altar and the serving of the traditional meatless Lenten meal. The meal began with an anti-pasta dish of green olives, white fresh mozzarella cheese and sliced red tomatoes. This was followed by a meatless pasta dish, a vegetable frittata, baked fish, and bread. The meal was completed with an assortment of special St. Joseph cookies and coffee.
Altar visitations began on Saturday morning, March 19th – the feast day of St. Joseph, Patron of Families. Refreshments were served throughout the day with a luncheon served from 11:00 am until 2:00 pm.
A Prayer Altar was available during the celebration. Guests were welcome to fill out prayer request forms and receive a St. Joseph candle. The event concluded on Saturday at 4:00 pm with the incineration of the petitions placed on the Prayer Altar during the two days of the event.
As is the tradition, there was no admission charge to attend the celebration. Donations were accepted, which benefited the St. Joseph’s Shelter, the Catholic Worker House, and the Bidwell/Riverside Center.
History of the Altar
Many say that the altar had its origin in Sicily during a time of famine. People were starving and turned to their faith during this troubled time. They prayed to St. Joseph, patron of Sicily, to intercede for them. They promised him that, should the rains come and the crops begin to flourish, they would prepare a banquet in his honor and invite the widows, the poor and the orphans to share in their prosperity. The rains did come and the crops returned to the fields. And the people did indeed prepare a great feast.
The St. Joseph Altar
The St. Joseph Altar, which is the focal point of the celebration, is constructed in three levels to represent the Catholic belief in the Trinity. Traditionally the altar is decorated with religiously symbolic breads, cakes, cookies, flowers, prayer candles, family pictures, linens and lace. The altar is blessed and dedicated to St. Joseph, the protector of the Holy Family and patron saint of all families and workers. Each person who visits the altar is given a blessed bread, holy card, medal, and fava bean, called the “lucky” bean.
The Fava Bean
The people supplemented their meals by preparing fava beans, which grow easily in poor soil. They are blessed and distributed at the Lenten meal served on the eve of the feast of St. Joseph. It is said: “keep one in your cupboard and you will never go hungry; carry one in your purse or pocket and you will never go broke.”
Photos from the 2014 Celebration:
Photos from the 2013 Celebration:
Photos from the 2011 Celebration:
Video from the 2010 Celebration:
Photos from the 2009 Celebration: