Our Very First St. Joseph Altar

by | Mar 19, 2009 | Crafts, Liturgical Year, Saints, St. Joseph | 10 comments

by Rascal (age 7)
As simple as it may be, our first ever St. Joseph Altar has been a hit! I am so glad we had a chance to put it together. Next year I am hoping that we can expand on this tradition, but this year the rest of our plans for the feast of St. Joseph will have to be put on hold until after we get home from my Grandfather’s funeral. . . I had hoped to post some pictures of the progress Rascal has made with his St. Joseph Lap Book, but that will have to wait as well. Instead I will leave you with a little more information about the St. Joseph Altar, which is from Viva San Giuseppe by St. Joseph Guild:

The History of the Saint Joseph Altar

The people of Sicily prayed. For too long there had been no rain to nourish the crops that sustained life for most of the island. The dried out wheat stalks cracked beneath the feet of the poor farmers as they walked through their barren fields. Only a sea of dust and withered vines remained from what had once been row upon row of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. And so the people prayed. They pleaded to St. Joseph, their patron, for relief from the famine that gripped the island. At last the skies opened, sending down the life-giving water. The people rejoiced. Some time later, to show their gratitude, they prepared a table with a special assortment of foods they had harvested. After paying honor to St. Joseph, they distributed the food to the less fortunate. The first St. Joseph Altar set up on the Island of Sicily was a small one, of course. But as time went on and the tradition took hold, the flamboyant nature and creative spirit of the Italians caused the altars to grow larger and more ornate. Today, the artistic quality of the breads, cookies and pastries, which are baked in such shapes as chalices, staffs and pyramids, often rivals the exquisite flavor of the food offerings. Though Sicilian immigrants introduced the custom to America, the celebration is not confined to any nationality. Rather, it has become a public event which its devoted participants embrace for a host of private and personal reasons. The feast is alternately a source of petition and thanksgiving. Many families believe that having a St. Joseph Altar can bring good fortune. And it is common to hear stories about favors received (a loved one’s recovery from an illness, for example), which are in turn attributed to the family’s dedication to St. Joseph. But whatever the reasons people become involved. St. Joseph’s Feast Day is a tradition that centers on the entire family. One of the special customs calls for the selection of children to portray members of the Holy Family—Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Angels and favorite saints may also be included in the ritual, which begins with the “saints” going door to door to seek aid until finally reaching the place where the altar is on display. After the Holy Family has eaten, guests may partake of the meal. Most of the foods presented on the altar are acquired through begging, a symbol gesture that represents what the poor of Sicily were forced to do. When the feast is over, the remaining food and whatever money has been contributed are given to the poor. Whether a St. Joseph Altar is an elaborate display at an elegant church or a humble table in a modest home, it is a reflection of deep devotion to St. Joseph, the patron of those in need—workers, travelers, the persecuted, the poor, the aged, the dying. And it is a custom that has enjoyed resurgence in recent years, as young and old have begun to rediscover their heritage. After many centuries, the St. Joseph Altar still serves as a reminder that those who have enjoyed some measure of good fortune must share it with those who have less.

Jenn has a great post over at Catholic Cuisine right now with Foods for the St. Joseph Altar, and be sure to check out The Virtual St. Joseph Altar as well! I hope you all have a blessed feast of St. Joseph!

Viva San Giuseppe!


  1. Evann

    Rascal did a great job! Thank you for linking to the Altar.
    Viva San Giuseppe!

  2. Angela

    Very nice! Did he cut out all the stuff by himself? I had to cut out all the itty-bitty ones.


  3. Kristyn Hall

    Hooray for Rascal! He did such a great job.

    Thank you for this post, Jessica. I recently saw a book in a catalog lately, a “coffee table” book about St. Joseph Altars, and my curiosity was piqued. What a lovely tradition. I love St. Joseph! I have been asking him to pray for us as we have a real estate problem 😀 and I am seeing things come together because of his intercession and God’s faithfulness.

    Still praying for your family,

  4. Jessica Gordon

    Thank you Evann!! And THANK YOU for providing such a wonderful resource!

    Angela ~ Yes, Rascal cut out all the pieces himself. =) I did wonder if he would need help… Although they aren’t perfect, I think he did a great job!

    Kristyn ~ St. Joseph is very dear to our family. Both my parents have St. Joseph as a patron saint (My dad’s name is Patrick Joseph and my mom is Josephine) and my middle name is Jo after my Grandmother… AND today is ALSO my sister’s birthday!! =) I’ve always felt bad that we never have done much for his feast falling right after St. Patrick’s Day, so I’ve decided to work on that! Thank you for your prayers!

  5. Lori

    Great Job! It’s beautiful. We had fun making ours too!

    Have a blessed day,

  6. Thought and Action

    God Bless the family.

    I spent the day visiting my sister, her husband and my two nieces.
    Sadly they don’t go Mass or practice the faith at all.
    I met other people there who don’t go to Mass or practice the faith either.It was rather gloomy.

    I left early and offered some prayers in reparation to the Sacred Heart and Immaculate Heart of Mary.

    Sadly my parents don’t go to Mass, are separated and in second relationships.

    I’m the only one in the family keeping the faith.
    God Bless.

    Continued prayers for you, your family, this blog and all holding the faith.
    It is a joy to see such internet sites.

    I’m Irish too so maybe I’m biased but “Shower of Roses” is brilliant.
    Be assured of that.
    God Bless

  7. Jessica Gordon

    CP ~ I am so sorry to hear that! Thank you so very much for your prayers for our family. I can’t tell you HOW MUCH we appreciate them! We will remember you and your family in our prayers as well! I know how very hard it is to see our loved ones stray from the Church… The power of prayer is amazing though, so let’s keep praying that by the grace and loving mercy of God they will return. God Bless!

  8. Maggie

    I am going to print this and make it with the boys on Monday 🙂 but for next year I think I will make play food that they can set it up with…we already have some of them, but not all 🙂 what a wonderful idea…do you read the story of why this feast happens to your kids? anything else?

  9. Jessica Gordon

    Yes, we've read the story in the past. One year our 2nd son and I created a St. Joseph Lap Book which includes the story. We now pull that Lap Book out each year to review, and my kids love help preparing the foods and setting up our altar. Someday I'd like to organize a St. Joseph Altar at our parish! 🙂


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