In Sicily, where St. Joseph is regarded by many as their Patron Saint, and many Italian-American communities, thanks are given to St. Joseph (“San Giuseppe” in Italian) for preventing a famine in Sicily during the Middle Ages. According to legend, there was a severe drought at the time, and the people prayed for their patron saint to bring them rain. They promised that if he answered their prayers, they would prepare a large feast to honor him. The rain did come, and the people of Sicily prepared a large banquet for their patron saint. The fava bean was the crop which saved the population from starvation and is a traditional part of St. Joseph’s Day altars and traditions. Giving food to the needy is a St. Joseph’s Day custom. In some communities it is traditional to wear red clothing and eat a Sicilian pastry known as a zeppola on St. Joseph’s Day. Sweets are popular because St. Joseph is the patron saint of pastry chefs.
Upon a typical St. Joseph’s Day altar, people place flowers, limes, candles, wine, fava beans, specially prepared cakes, breads, and cookies (as well as other meatless dishes), and zeppole. Foods are traditionally served containing bread crumbs to represent saw dust since St. Joseph was a carpenter. Because the feast occurs during Lent, traditionally no meat was allowed on the celebration table. The altar usually has three tiers, to represent the trinity.
On the Sicilian island of Lipari, The St. Joseph legend is modified somewhat, and says that sailors returning from the mainland encountered a fierce storm that threatened to sink their boat. They prayed to St. Joseph for deliverance, and when they were saved, they swore to honor the saint each year on his feast day. The Liparian ritual is somewhat changed, in that meat is allowed at the feast.
Some villages like Belmonte Mezzagno used to burn wood and logs in squares on the day before St.Joseph, as thanksgiving to the Saint. This is called “A Vampa di San Giuseppe” (the Saint Joseph’s bonfire).
In Italy March 19 is also Father’s Day.