Saturday, March 18, 2017

Move Over, St. Patrick: St. Joseph's Feast Is When Italians Parade

Giorgio's Italian & French Pastry Shop- Hoboken, NJ 2017
The St. Patrick's parade is over and the Irish (and honorary Irish) have gone home to sleep off their annual bout of intemperance, but the multi-generational marchers of the Italian-American St. Joseph Society in New Orleans are only just dusting off their tuxedos and straightening their bow ties. Once the shamrocks and shenanigans have vanished from the narrow streets of the French Quarter, and the keg of green beer is empty, another parade — in honor of an entirely different saint — is beginning to gear up.

Every year on the Saturday nearest March 19, Italian-American Catholic revelers flood the streets in honor of the Feast of St. Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily. The differences between the St. Patrick's Day festivities and the St. Joseph's Day parade are unmistakable. Instead of green, St. Joseph's marchers wear red. Instead of shamrocks, they carry lucky fava beans.

The parade in New Orleans is rooted to a reverent, yet humble start: In 1970, a single pickup truck honoring St. Joseph trailed behind the yearly Irish Channel Parade, according to Mark Fonte, historian for the St. Joseph Society. But the Italian-American community in the city longed for a public way to express their heritage and appreciation for St. Joseph, husband of the Virgin Mary and foster father to Jesus.
Every year, on the Saturday nearest March 19th, a parade and meal steeped in Italian-American traditions honor the feast day of St. Joseph, the patron saint of Sicily. 
Courtesy of The Italian American St. Joseph Society. In the early 1970s, the society petitioned for their own parade. "It was around the time that the first Godfather movie came out," says Fonte. "It gave us a big boost. Everybody wanted to be Italian."
There are St. Joseph's celebrations across the country — and the world — but none so big, bold or festive as in New Orleans. This year, more than 300 marchers and 11 floats will trek down Chartres Street, past the green-shuttered building where former New Orleans Mayor Nicholas Girod offered his residence as a haven to exiled Napoleon Bonaparte in 1815. Leading the procession is a rolling altar bearing Italian food and relics dedicated to St. Joseph. Many local Catholic churches, families and stores also construct altars.