The Italian Version of Father’s Day or St. Joseph’s Day
At the beginning of March, Neroni noticed Nonni as she stood at the large linen press, and as she was taking out certain items, such as lovely lace tablecloths and Saint Joseph’s statue, Neroni knew that the wonderful day of the tavole di San Giuseppe was drawing near. His family’s St. Joseph’s Table was always the best of the neighborhood.
Father Anthony had explained the history of the holiday during a recent workshop on the Saints. Everyone knew that St. Joseph had married Mary, the Mother of Jesus. Scripture told that Saint Joseph , a descendant of David, earned his bread as a carpenter and was with Mary when they “misplaced” Jesus at the age of 12 in the temple. Legends present a nice story of Mary’s having chosen Joseph because his staff, among those of many suitors for her hand, had a growth of white lilies and produced a white dove which really impressed her. Father Anthony pointed to a statue and said, “That is why statues of the blessed Saint show him holding the Christ Child and a stem of lilies.”
The parishioners, including the Ricci family, happily heard how this feast day had become the official Father’s Day in Italy. And, as Saint Joseph is often considered the patron saint of the unemployed, everyone discussed how much his patronage was needed this year when several local families were suffering under the cloud of an unemployed dad. At the end of the workshop, Father Anthony voiced a challenge, “Host the best Saint Joseph’s tables to raise money for those in our little hill town who need some assistance. I will visit each of your homes to taste the wonderful dishes and to urge others to put Euros in the donation baskets. The table raising the most money and judged the best by me will be featured in the church newsletter, also. A little competition always brings out the best.”
On a back pew, Neroni had slept on and off during the workshop. He eyed the statue of Saint Joseph standing up near the altar and thought of what he and Mr. Gatto might do to show respect not only to the saint, but also to Papa on this special day, March 19. His dreams as he snoozed included bits of the famous menu for San Guiseppe’s Table, or all the sweets and non-meat dishes, since the holiday always occurred during Lent, the season of fasting and fewer meals with meats. He ran out the door to consult with Mr. Gatto about what tidbits they might get.
Neroni meowed, “Just think of the fried shrimp, the octopus in red sauce, and the vegetables smothered in cheeses. Oh, the eggs, made into omelets with CREAM…and the other dishes that humans like filled with vegetables, but especially any that contain CREAM.” Both cats lay down on the narrow cobblestone street in front of their favorite restaurant in hopes of getting a small bowl of some cream that day.
After the Ricci family returned home, they began their plans for the most delicious, maggiore, or biggest, St. Joseph’s table. Nonni, Mama, Simone, and Ceceila began to work on the menu for the event. Pietra agreed to make flyers on his computer about their menu and to take them to school and around the neighborhood. Papa called the priest to ask if he knew exactly how many papas were out of work and how much money a particularly stressed family might need to keep their home or apartment, to buy groceries and medicine, and to keep the auto going so that the job search in the valley might continue in order to set a goal for their St. Joseph’s table. So, each family member took responsibility for a designated area of preparation for the meal. Papa and Pietra, because their jobs seemed slight in contrast to the preparation of the meal, agreed to do the shopping and to help with getting everything ready.
Neroni, although appearing to sleep on his favorite chair in the sun, had heard the plans and made some of his own. He and Mr. Gatto could round up all the neighborhood cats and dogs and on St. Joseph’s Day could meow and bark at their owners to go to the Ricci family’s event, and to add to this, they could form a parade down the cobblestone street to lead all those who saw this unusual procession to the best St. Joseph’s table in the town. And Neroni and Mr. Gatto were quite familiar with the tables as they usually wandered in and out of doorways meowing for cream, cheese and fish on this day and always kept a checklist of which home had the creamiest cream, the most flavorful cheese, and the most mouth-watering fish. They agreed that getting the Ricci family’s table the most donations for the designation of the best food would be the way to honor Papa on his coming Father’s Day.
A day before the big day, Pietra and Papa made a visit to the little hill town’s famous bakery, La Crustini, for all the delicious breads which Mama and Nonni did not have time to make because of the preparation for all the other dishes. They also purchased fish, shrimp, and octopus from the Manni’s Fish Market that morning, as well as buying cream, butter, cheeses, flour, sugar and vegetables from Bucharelli’s Negozio di Alimentari, or grocery store, because they had the freshest items in town with deliveries daily from the farmers and seafood emporiums down in the valley. Once they returned home with the ingredients for the next day, they found Mama and Nonni busy making the St. Joseph’s Day candies that they would proudly present along with the other sweet rolls, cookies, cakes, and puddings allowed during this Season for this day.
After working for over two weeks, the big day finally arrived. The table presented a lovely scene of lace cloth, statue of St. Joseph holding the infant Jesus, and three (for the Holy Trinity) levels of elevated plates of the choicest menu items to honor the Saint. Also, other symbols used for decoration on the table included some carpentry tools from Papa’s workbench, since Joseph was a carpenter; lilies; wine, of course, for the Cana wedding; for luck, some lemons; candles, always candles; and breads in different shapes such as baskets, fish, or chalices. What a beautiful sight for the family and their expected guests.
Neroni and Mr. Gatto trotted down the street gathering their animal friends for the procession, and rightly enough, families, dressed in red for the holiday, followed them to the Ricci’s door. Papa proudly opened it and all who entered told Papa and Mama immediately how lovely the table appeared. After a short wait, while Neroni and Mr. Gatto meowed their welcome to the guests, along with a quick rub against all the legs in hopes of some cream or tidbits, Father Anthony arrived, out of breath, as he had already been to two other St. Joseph Day tables. He greeted everyone, then raised his hands in blessing, as the crowd hushed, and asked The Lord to bless the Ricci family, all those gathered there, and the table of rich blessings so that they all might serve their neighbors in need. After the “amen,” he gently pointed to the donation basket and asked everyone to be generous in response to such a bountiful table. He also took notes so that he could judge the best table which would be announced in the church’s Sunday bulletin. And off he went after sampling most all the dishes.
That evening, after the cleanup from the two hours of drop-in visitors, tasters and supporters, the family finally sat down to relax. The discussion ranged from how much food they had eaten to how much money they had made for the support of the family they had selected to help. As Papa sat in his favorite large chair and sipped a cup of espresso, Neroni jumped up behind him and gently crawled down his shoulder and into his lap. Not wanting to make Papa spill his coffee, he put his head on his paws, yawned, and looked up into Papa’s eyes in a loving way just before he drifted off into a pleasant cat nap.
Papa thought about how Neroni usually wanted to nap by himself of the blanket on his favorite chair, but on this Father’s Day, Neroni had chosen his lap as his sleeping place. Papa was honored that Neroni had chosen him for such, and with his kind, loving, and generous family around him, Papa silently thanked God for the example of St. Joseph in sheltering and caring for his precious family. Neroni dreamed of more special occasions when he could lick up the treats of cream, and fish, and cheese. Happy St. Joseph’s Day.
And guess whose table won the contest.