The origin of Saint Joseph’s Day as an Italian festival is simple yet a testimony to an ancient and abiding devotion. According to legend, there was a severe drought in Sicily around 1268 and the people prayed to St. Joseph, their patron saint, to bring them rain.They promised that they would prepare a large banquet feast to honor him, if he answered their prayers.
The rain did come, and the Sicilians made good on their promise, continuing the festival ever since. The fava bean was the crop that saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is also a St. Joseph’s Day custom.
Again this year Dignity/Washington held its observance of St. Joseph Day with a grand Italian banquet held on Saturday, March 9 at the All Souls Memorial Episcopal Church Hall in Northwest DC for a crowd of nearly 85 guests who paid $30 a ticket. Net proceeds were $1,500 from ticket sales and a 50/50 raffle, including $410 from a newly-featured live and silent auction.
The altar tradition plays a major role in the veneration of St. Joseph and is the focus of the novena (nine days of prayer) before the actual feast day. Dignity/Washington’s altar was decorated with statues and icons, candles, religious medals, rosaries, prayer cards, fava beans and loaves of bread.
A religious ceremony was again part of the evening, led by Father Mickey Martinez, with a procession of national flags, icons and, of course, the statue of St. Joseph; with congregational hymns; a Gospel reading from the life of St. Joseph; and a blessing of the meal. Helping to set the mood was a montage of film clips with music backdrop entitled The Kiss (more or less), arranged and presented by member Tom Yates, highlighting famous kiss scenes from gay and lesbian themed movies.
Everyone was delighted by a wonderful array of entrées and sides which included garlic crusted pork loin, puttanesca with chick sausages, vegetarian lasagna, and a vegetable medley (asparagus, zucchini, yellow squash, diced red onions) sautéed in olive oil and garlic; all prepared from scratch by the volunteer cooks, headed by member Len Latham. Patrons were left to choose from the special dessert buffet of traditional zeppele di San Giuseppe, mini canoli, chocolate éclairs, assorted cakes, fresh fruit and cassata. The pastries were purchased from Piedigrotta Bakery of Baltimore and Catania Bakery and A. Litteri, Inc., both of DC.
Member Niko led the production of the actual meal and religious ceremony, assisted by member Peter who was responsible for logistical arrangement and finances. Other key workers for the event were: Dan Hayes, Patrick Wojahn, Dave Kolesar, Rick Lynch, Mark Hibschman, Manny Tortosa, Dave Vespa, Larry Ranly, Kenneth Dowling, Mike Travers, Mark Hibschman and Larry Huntington. Many more helped behind the scenes and their contributions were very much appreciated.
Each year the evening is dedicated to the memory of special individuals who have contributed to the Dignity/Washington community. This year’s memorial dedication was to two special parents, Veronica and Jerry Colfer, in recognition of Veronica’s death since last year’s dinner.
by Henry Huot, Dignity/Washington Board member