Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Saint Joseph's Day

Monday, March 19 was Saint Joseph's Day, a very important day for people of Sicilian descent in New Orleans. Many years ago, Sicily suffered from a severe drought and famine. Sicilians prayed to their patron, Saint Joseph, and finally the long-awaited rain came to bring life to the crops and relief to the people. In gratitude to Saint Joseph, Siciians prepared an altar to honor their patron saint and to display the bountiful harvest, of which they distributed a large share to the poor and needy. This became an annual tradition, which was brought to the United States with Sicilian immigrants.

Today, Sicilian Americans in New Orleans prepare colorful altars with statues, holy pictures, candles, and elaborately decorated breads, pastries, and other foods. Some families open their homes for people to view their altars, pray, honor Saint Joseph, receive something to eat, and perhaps make a donation for the poor.

Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) students and instructors visited two Saint Joseph altars in homes in uptown New Orleans, where we received a warm welcome, heard the story of Saint Joseph and the Sicilian famine, and admired the beautiful altar. We each received a bag containing a Saint Joseph prayer card, some Italian cookies, and a fava bean. We learned that the fava bean, usually used as food for cattle, was the only plant that grew during the famine and kept the people alive. Today it is considered a lucky bean, and whoever carries it will have good luck.

Below are photos from our visit to the Saint Joseph altars.

The Italian flag marks a home where a Saint Joseph altar is displayed
View of a Saint Joseph altar in an uptown New Orleans home
Another view of a Saint Joseph altar in an uptown New Orleans home
Nicole Rios of Nicaragua holds the gift bag she received with a Saint Joseph prayer card,
several Italian cookies, and a lucky fava bean.
Upon our return, LIEP Instructor Christina Indovina had an additional treat for us. She had assembled  all the ingredients for us to learn to make the traditional Italian fig cookies called cuccidati. Below are photos of our cuccidati making.
Ying Liao of China, Felix Garmendia of Venezuela, and LIEP Instructor Christina Indovina
mix ingredients.
The dough is rolled out, eventually to form a rectangle.
The fig stuffing is added and rolled up in the dough.
The cuccidati are carefully cut.
Alicia Lucidi of France prepares to take a baking sheet of cuccidati to the oven.
Alhousseyni Gallo of Senegal waits for the cuccidati to bake.
The cuccidati are ready to eat!
CoCo Zhao of China enjoys one of our just-baked cuccidati!

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