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St. Joseph's Day Altar At St. Joseph's

Monday, April 23, 2012

We were in New Orleans for St. Joseph's Day this year, and I've *always* wanted to see the altars that some of the churches (and restaurants and other businesses, esp those with strong Sicilian ties) make for the holiday.  The first one we went to was the largest and most magnificent -- St. Joseph Catholic Church in Gretna:

St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

The church describes the tradition this way:
St. Joseph's Day altars began as a custom brought to New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants. The tradition of building the altar to St. Joseph began as far back as the Middle Ages in gratitude to St. Joseph for answering prayers for deliverance from famine. The families of farmers and fisherman built altars in their homes to share their good fortune with others in need. The tradition grew to a more public event on St. Joseph's Feast Day on March 19. Today the individuals who work on the altars are fulfilling their own promises to St. Joseph "to share their blessings with those in need."


One tradition entails begging for the supplies to build the altar. The altar must not incur "any expense nor any personal financial gain." As an act of devotion to St. Joseph, supplicants would promise to build an altar should their sons return home from war safely.


Although there are perishable foods on the altars, a large portion of the breads, cookies and cakes are wrapped so that they may be given to charities after the altar is broken. The altar is broken after a ceremony which reenacts the Holy Family seeking shelter. The ceremony is called Tupa Tupa "which in Italian means Knock Knock." Children dressed in costume "knock at three doors asking for food and shelter. At the first two they are refused. At the third door, the host of the Altar greets them and welcomes them to refresh themselves."
St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

The lemon is a symbol for luck.  If you 'steal' a lemon, you'll marry your spouse this year.  The man in front of me asked if I was going to steal a lemon -- because if you do, you'll get pregnant during the year.  That's the idea, as was confirmed by everyone around us.  They're expected to be 'stolen'.
St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA
Yes I did.

Many of the breads are made out in symbols characteristic of the Holy Family and Joseph especially.  There's a crown of thorns here, the saw as a carpenter's tool, painted silver and adorned with flowers (bottom left), and sandals:
St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

To the left of the wine, shoes made from dough:
St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

These fava beans are for luck.  As you're leaving, you make a donation to the church and bring home a little bag with a St. Joseph card, several cookies (lots of anise flavor, I think), and a lucky bean.
St. Joseph Altar at St. Joseph Catholic Church, Gretna LA

How fantastic is this!?

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