The Performance Ritual of Saint Joseph's Day: A Stranger at the Door

By Leslie A. Wade


New Orleans is a city inspired and enlivened by its religious traditions. For centuries the Catholic Church calendar has exerted a significant influence upon the civic life of the community. The holiday of Mardi Gras is the most acclaimed instance, as the celebration has gained world-wide fame and today functions as a synecdoche of New Orleans itself. Though celebrated on a smaller scale, numerous other church days mark the cultural life of the city and contribute to its character. And as with Mardi Gras, such holidays have come to perform both religious and secular functions, working to negotiate claims of the past and the future. This essay investigates the mid-Lent holiday of Saint Joseph's Day, which falls shortly after Mardi Gras. My study focuses upon the social aspect of the holiday and examines the event's conservation and expansion of cultural boundaries.

This St. Joseph altar was built in a church in the Mid City section of New Orleans by the Italian American community. Photo: Nicholas R. Spitzer.

Introduced by Sicilian immigrants in the late 19th century, the festival practices of Saint Joseph's Day evidence a curious blend of devotion, merriment, familial affection, and civic generosity. 1 The holiday, celebrated on March 19th, is perhaps most widely known for its elaborate altar displays, where a bounty of breads, fruit, and pasta dishes are presented in honor of the saint. The event commemorates the fatherly example of Saint Joseph and gives occasion for celebrating the bonds of the family. The event also calls for performances of thankfulness for blessings bestowed over the course of the year. Celebrants exhibit their appreciation through an act of culinary charity; the bounty of the altar is shared not only with friends and family, but with the needy, and with visitors who may arrive as complete strangers.

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Excerpt, Island of Saints and Souls. The Sicilian immigrants brought the St. Joseph Day Altar with them as they moved into Louisiana. A yearly celebration in March, the Altar is planned months in advance. Bread in a number of shapes are offered as petitions for a loved one to heal, perhaps needed at the present time or in anticipation of future needs. The clip shows a beautifully constructed altar, interviews several people about the St. Joseph Day Altar tradition, and also illustrates how the ritual is embraced by the community. Produced and directed by Neil Alexander, 1991.

Aside from the spiritual need that the Saint Joseph's Day ritual may address, the event functions as an unusual type of social performance. In a city renowned for its mix of populations and creolized cultures, the Saint Joseph's Day performance enacts a fascinating kind of boundary-drawing and blurring. The event can reinforce cultural identity in a powerful fashion, that is, by highlighting lines of segregation and solidarity. It can likewise work to destabilize identities and promote cultural mixing. The celebration thus gives play to a two-sided and sometimes ambivalent dynamic, championing the ties of blood kinship while invoking the presence of the outsider.

Though I have visited numerous Saint Joseph altars, this essay recounts my visit to four particular celebrations: two in religious institutions, two in private residences. The study documents features of each and also provides commentary on the insider/outsider dynamic evident in the respective events. My interest lies in the viability of the Saint Joseph's Day ritual in contemporary New Orleans and the social benefit that religious practice can effect in a pluralistic community.

As preface to the accounts of my visits, I wish to highlight the powerful sort of cultural conservation that can operate in the Saint Joseph's Day celebration. Lyle Saxon once observed that "Saint Joseph's Day belongs to the Italians," (Saxon, Dreyer, and Tallent 2001: 106) and without question the celebration owes its inception and continuance in New Orleans to the city's Sicilian-American populace. If one views the event as a kind of identity performance, then Saint Joseph's Day serves to legitimate and authorize the religious and cultural experience of this group.

As a Catholic holiday, Saint Joseph's Day evinces a religious aspect that confers a vital in-group status upon the celebrant. The elaborately displayed altar functions in the manner of invocation, regarding the saint as a living presence, capable of healing sickness and relieving distress. Numerous stories, involving terminal illness, disability, and emotional trauma, recount the intercessory power of Saint Joseph. Some stories demonstrate a kind of whimsy. One tells how Saint Joseph rewarded a faithful believer, the owner of the B. Montalbano grocery on Saint Phillip's Street, with the receipt of a portrait showing the saint's "true likeness," delivered by a native Italian to whom Saint Joseph had appeared in a dream-the saint had informed him of a "just man living in the city of New Orleans." 2 Such an anecdote underscores the power and charismatic appeal of Saint Joseph. Closeness to the saint promises favor and good fortune. Prayer cards assure his supplicants that they "shall never die a sudden death, or be drowned, nor shall poison take effect on them." 3 Conversely, stories abound of those who disregarded the saint and suffered sundry travails, such as losing a house to fire, or an arm while fishing (Orso and Kaveski 1975: 17).

Belief and devotion contribute to the insider-status of the celebrant, who regards the saint as the locus of spiritual power, promising connection to the divine. An abundance of lore and symbology add to the saint's charisma. As husband to the virgin Mary, Saint Joseph has been proclaimed a virgin himself. One document I received at an altar related that St Joseph was "espoused to Our Blessed Lady by divine arrangement on September 8th in the year 2 BC." 4 The emblematic aspect of the food items reinforces the cabalistic nature of the event. Baked goods are shaped in the form of hammers and ladders, in honor of Joseph the carpenter. Bread crumbs symbolize the sawdust on his workshop floor. Other items link the saint to Christ. The stuffed artichokes symbolize "the thorns of the savior at the crucifixion," while pignolati-dough dropped in carmel-represent the pine cones that "Jesus might have played with as a child." 5 The somewhat arcane history and symbology of Saint Joseph grant the figure an aura, a potency undergirded by the ecclesiastical authority of the Catholic Church. And for those attending a Saint Joseph's Day altar event, devotion to the saint insinuates a clear line of demarcation between believer and non-believer.

Ethnic identity couples with religious devotion to amplify the in-group effect of the event. For Sicilian-Americans, the altar and its associated practices can serve as a kind of cultural property, a prized site that proclaims and celebrates their particular cultural heritage.

While Italians have long resided in New Orleans, the greater number of Italian immigrants arrived in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The vast majority of these immigrants hailed from Sicily and came from working class backgrounds. Following the Irish and German immigrants, the Sicilians were the last European group to achieve standing in New Orleans' social life. 6 They faced discrimination and social hostility. The tension between the city's Italian and Irish citizens flared in an incident that would draw national attention, the killing of David Hennessy, the chief of police, and the subsequent lynching of his alleged Sicilian murderers. 7 As Italian-Americans struggled for social and economic position, shared rituals and traditions provided comfort and served to encourage group solidarity in the city's sometimes unwelcoming environment. Events such as the Saint Joseph's Day performance looked to the past but addressed the current-day need for securing the community's ranks.

Throughout the decades, practice of the altar celebration has risen and waned according to the fortunes of the Sicilian-American community. A resurgence of altar activity followed the second World War, indicating thankfulness for the safe return of loved ones in the service. This flurry of activity may also have issued from renewed assertions of family heritage in face of the cultural melding affected by the war, and the ensuing threat of suburbinization. While the number of altar sites has diminished (local papers advertised one hundred in 1940, only twenty-one in 1985), the event continues (Estes 1987: 35). Ethelyn Orso has identified a resurgence of altar activity in correspondence with the ethnic revival of the 1970s, which saw many groups celebrating their roots and history (Orso 1990: 51). Orso outlines a move in the event's practice from the private residence to the public site, such as the Saint Bernard Parish Civic Center and the Piazza d'Italia. In 1985 the celebration at the latter site fed over twelve thousand (Estes 1987: 36). Though the number of altar events may vary from year to year-I noted twenty-seven advertised in 2000-the ritual remains a tradition passed from generation to generation. The practice's demise has repeatedly been forestalled by new commitment to the event, as children initiated in the practice continue the activity when they begin their own families. As one commentator has observed, the altars have provided a means for the "young people [to] reach out to their heritage" (Treadway 1992).

The rituals of Saint Joseph's Day enact something of a "chosen people" effect. The altars function as a locus of power and charisma, assuring a privileged position for a group that has historically encountered social and economic disadvantage. Noting that little is done to "convert" outsiders to the observance, Mary Ann Tusa McColloste writes: "I can only conclude from my data that the celebration of the Saint Joseph's Day feast is a closed tradition, in the sense that primarily those persons of Sicilian descent have embraced the feast and customs" (1970: 38). McColloste goes on to declare the event, "territorially and culturally restricted"(38). Such a contention highlights how the event serves as a vehicle of cultural conservation, reinforcing in-group belonging according to the lines of religion and ethnicity.

While Saint Joseph's Day celebrations no doubt continue as an expression of ethnic pride and cultural belonging, the event often deflects the appearance of being cultish or sequestered. In fact, the structure and framing of the event demand the invitation of the other, the encounter with those outside the boundaries of kinship. While different altar sites emphasize and acknowledge the outsider to varying degrees, it is the event's openness to the non-believer and the non-Italian that gives it an unusual cultural power, as a locale for the encounter and negotiation of cultural difference.

Attention to the outsider is mandated by Saint Joseph himself. Just as the religious aspect of the event demands faithfulness and devotion to the saint, it also demands charity and compassion for the outsider. Prayers to Saint Joseph emphasize an attitude of generosity, as his supplicants implore: "Give us patience in caring, vision in sight, and above all else, a genuine love of all peoples" (Cole 1985: 47). Saint Joseph has also been named the patron saint of the socially disadvantaged, including workers, widows, travelers, the elderly, the dying, unwed mothers, and orphans. His regard for outsiders has moreover informed his reputation as something of a rebellious saint. Stephen Duplantier relates the story of Saint Joseph gaining entry into heaven for the infamous Italian bandit Mastrilli-in effect, forcing Saint Peter to suspend canonical law. Duplantier consequently views the saint as "a kind of loyal opposition to God," one appealing to the oppressed (1983: 43).

The primary origin account of the Saint Joseph celebration, which dates back to Sicilly in the Middle Ages, includes outreach to the poor as a central component of the event; the end of a drought precipitated a feast of thanks in honor of Saint Joseph, which concluded with the feeding of the needy. This motif of attending to the outsider is further emphasized in the playlet-sequence frequently staged before the altar, a brief enactment that dramatizes the holy family's search for lodging. Highlighting their experience of being "oustide," the dramatic ritual has often employed orphans and others dispossessed. Saxon recounts an interview with a Mrs. Messina who enlisted three orphans for her altar performance (1987: 93).

Besides prayers and playlets that underscore the importance of compassion, abundant actual acts of charity have occurred on Saint Joseph's Day. In the instance cited by Saxon, the large number of "poorly clad" individuals who gathered outside the Messina house did not leave hungry. Often, donations received on Saint Joseph's Day are given to local charities; Mrs. Accardo, for instance, regularly gave all proceeds from her altar to the girls at the House of the Good Shepherd (Plemer 1968: 87). In most cases generosity translates into the offering of vast amounts of food. Mid-city resident Mrs. Edmund Geary for years hosted a popular altar event; on one occasion a tour bus with nearly fifty passengers arrived before her home, to which she responded, "bring 'em in" (qtd. in "Altered States"). It is not uncommon to hear of large numbers of visitors being fed; one New Orleans family served five hundred one year and seven hundred the next (Pope 1985). Such evidence suggests that the celebration of Saint Joseph's Day cannot be considered a wholly insular or in-group phenomenon. Though the Sicilian-American community may have originally governed and conducted the practice, the holiday can offer an unusual kind of religious/civic space, one in which citizens of different backgrounds may enter and find hospitality.

The celebration of Saint Joseph's Day has consequently moved into a public arena that disallows claims of ownership by any one group. For decades New Orleans' black community has celebrated the event. The Mardi Gras Indians parade upon this day just as they do at carnival. David Estes has documented the expansion of the ritual's use, noting altars hosted by a young, Irish-Catholic man and another by a black Baptist woman originally from Mississippi (1987: 40-41.) In a recent period of high unemployment celebrants staged an altar primarily for economic reasons, to seek the saint's assistance in face of the hundreds of workers laid off by the Godchaux sugar refinery (Monica 1985). That the altar event has moved beyond the confines of the Sicilian-American community heartens the editor of Viva San Guiseppe: A Guide to Saint Joseph Altars. He confirms that 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," (Cole 1985: 8)

On Saint Joseph's Day 2000 I visited a number of Saint Joseph altars, witnessing a wide array of displays and styles of presentation. My interest in the insider-outsider dynamic of the event in part stems from my own position as an outsider. My background, neither Catholic nor Italian, helped focus my attention on the different dynamics at work in the celebration, especially those involving the reception and status granted the visitor.

My visit to the Provincial House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph provided a compelling example of an altar in an ecclesiastical setting. Situated on Mirabeau Avenue, the Provincial House is a large, unadorned brick edifice, monolithic in appearance. Parking was difficult to locate, as cars had filled the drive leading to the house's entrance. The public nature of this display was underscored by police officers in the lobby. Overall, the event exhibited a strong sense of propriety and decorum; it was highly regulated and highly controlled. Adjacent to the foyer was a large hall that housed the altar event. It contained several exquisitely-decorated tables; the altar was positioned at the far wall opposite the doorway so that visitors would first pass the tables and view the foods there on. Upon entering the exhibition hall, I was greeted by an elderly woman behind a small table. She spoke in a warm but official manner, offering to answer questions. She also provided suggestions as to how to proceed through the viewing space. Beside her table was situated a clear plastic donation box with numerous bills visible inside.

Viewing the tables dazzled the visitors, with their various dishes and decorations. The foods were expertly displayed on an embroidered white cloth with ribbons running along the edges of the table. Clearly, the items were to be appreciated for their beauty and extravagance. Numerous bread pieces drew attention, such as those in the form of a sandal, crab, and alligator. One table exhibited a finely decorated red and yellow cake, in the shape of the sacred heart. Another held two dough-encased eggs, "alpha" written on one, "omega" on the other. The most impressive of the pieces on display was a white cake, sculpted in the form of a life-sized baby lamb.

Arriving at the altar I found a finely polished kneeling bench in front of a prayer box. The altar held a large, dominating statue of Saint Joseph, which was framed by a line of red candles. The altar itself exhibited numerous food displays, none, however, as lavish as those seen on the other tables.

Many Saint Joseph's Day celebrations stage a place setting for the holy family (the plates left empty). Here, the place setting was expensively accoutered, sporting fine china, a complete setting of cutlery, with a crystal wine and water glass (the setting was a stark contrast to the one I'd witnessed earlier in the cafeteria of the Cabrini School). The impression of expense was furthered by the sumptuous displays donated by numerous business establishments, including Ruth's Chris Steak House, Tony Angelo's Restaurant, and the Meme Market.

Though the event at the Provincial House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph attained the highest degree of culinary artistry I would witness that day, the experience evoked the impression of visiting an art gallery or museum. The tables were arranged to permit a constant flow of viewers, and the steady stream of visitors disallowed spending any length of time at any one display. Small placards sat alongside the displays, identifying the items as though they were works of art. The event exhibited a high degree of self-consciousness, almost as though the celebration was presenting an "example" of a Saint Joseph's Day altar.

A strong institutional aspect informed the event. Though open to the general public, this setting evoked a strong sense of church hierarchy. The visitors in attendance were elderly and white, chiefly women. Most in attendance were dressed in somewhat formal attire, as though having just attended a church service. The effect was that of paying homage to the institution and the beautiful art displayed. The experience was controlled, authoritative. No plates of spaghetti were served in the exhibition hall. Visitors received a small bag of cookies and prayer cards from the elderly woman at the desk upon their departure.

The residence of Joe T. in the Riverbend area of the city offered the example of an in-group performance in a private domestic setting. Two flags flew from the porch of this Creole-style cottage: the American flag and the flag of Italy. Visitors passed through an unlocked screen door and proceeded into a side room where the altar was stationed against a wall. In contrast to the pieces on display at the House of the Sisters of Saint Joseph, the items on this altar gave a straight-forward, homemade appearance. A plain sheet covered the altar, on which stood candles and various icons. The effect was homespun but earnest. Along with several plates of fish, the altar displayed a wide variety of vegetables, including asparagus, eggplant, squash, and cabbages, and fruit like bananas and strawberries, were wildly piled in large quantities.

Though affable and attentive, Joe T. made lines of social distinction quite clear in his conversation. Remarking "it's all about family," he spoke enthusiastically and proudly of the many hours dedicated, the money invested, and the care given to the preparations. Joe shared that his wife baked over twelve hundred cookies. The altar represented the continuance of family tradition. The sense of generational succession was highlighted by the memorial cake on the altar in honor of his recently deceased grandmother.

My visit to this altar gave me the strong sense of being an outsider, as though I had been permitted inside to admire the handiwork of the owner. A small side table sat across from the altar with a selection of stapled green papers, much handled, which contained information about Saint Joseph and the history of the event. I was directed to this guide for answers to my questions. Though the mood was highly informal-Joe was dressed in sports shirt and jeans, drinking a cup of wine-an insider/outsider distinction prevailed. Friends and family would appear and would proceed to the back room, from which laughter would issue. Strangers were politely received, given ample plates of spaghetti and ushered to a large common table on the front porch.

I viewed Joe as something of an emissary, as the father figure assigned the job of greeting visitors and sharing familial history. Without question the altar proved the focus of the household's pride, and the principal interest of the event appeared to be the celebration of the family's internal bond.

David Estes has argued that something of an inverse ratio can be detected in Saint Joseph's Day events, that is, the greater the emphasis falls on celebrating ethnicity (or by extension religion), the lesser is the attention given to sharing with the outsider (See Estes 1987 for further explanation). My experiences corroborate Estes' contention, as my visits to two other altars, which exhibited minimal attention to Catholicism and the Sicilian heritage, proved more welcoming to the outsider.

My visit to a second institutional context provided a wholly different experience from that of the Provincial House. Situated in the Irish channel, a neighborhood traditionally home to both working-class Irish and Italians, the Church of Saint Alphonsus hosted an informal yet congenial altar event. Identified as a national historic landmark, the church, once home to the Redemptorist Fathers, has been decommissioned and now serves as a cultural arts center for the neighborhood (a back-room museum houses photographs and memorabilia from the 19th century). The shift from church to arts center could be detected in the manner and attitude of the event, which was far less devotional and far more communal. No police stood guard. The aged and somewhat dilapidated doors were open on all sides of the church, allowing for a steady stream of visitors.

That is not to say that the church did not exhibit many beautiful displays of an inspirational nature. Much of the statuary in Saint Alphonsus has been left in place, and the Saint Joseph altars were stationed in the front of the church, alongside the statues and icons. The effect was powerful and many of the pieces were quite beautiful and stirring, such as the pair of baked-bread baby shoes.

As opposed to the aestheticism of the Provincial House, which gave the effect of an altar under or behind glass, the beauty of this event did not seem self-conscious, though the pieces reflected a meticulousness and mastery. The altars were all accessible and approachable. No area was cordoned off or watched over by an official. And no materials were distributed that explained the event and its history.

All doors to the church were open, allowing for the flow of a spring breeze. The serving of food and drink typified the casual and unstructured experience of the event. Large dishes of bread and pasta were lined along tables. Visitors were free to ladle as large a portion of food as desired. Wine was also available, dispensed without oversight, and the altars were decorated with dozens of wine bottles. The site offered a low-key environment. Free to wander, children played in the space. One could walk around the displays then sit and rest in the pews. Clusters of individuals sat together, eating and conversing. The population in attendance was diverse, both in age and race. Many appeared to be working-class. In short, the space served as a place for meeting, and less a place for viewing.

And though the sound system played opera and accordion music that suggested an Italian orientation, the event's assertion of ethnic identity was muted. I spotted an Italian flag alongside an American flag, but both had been pushed to a shadowy spot against a back wall.

Finally, I visited another altar in a private residence, this one in the upper Garden District. The house was small but attractive, Victorian-style with gingerbread woodwork. The living quarters of the house were raised, accessible by a large stairway. One approached the altar area by passing through a ground floor doorway into a false-basement, a receded area under the house with cement-block walls on three sides. Above the doorway was an unpretentious sign in block green script, reading "Saint Joseph Altar."

This event gave virtually no indication of ethnic heritage. The altar was not staged for family purposes, or to celebrate lineage; rather the display represented the outpouring of thanks by the home's owner, Diane W., who had been stricken with cancer (she has been in remission since 1989). Diane has hosted an altar service every year since her recovery, and the celebration at her home exuded a warmth and generosity, reflecting the loving attention and thoughtfulness that had gone into the altar display. Flowers were delicately arranged. Rosary beads lay in the middle of the altar. Candies and sweets were present in abundance, while fruits and vegetables were scarce. The area was decorated by green drapery and branches of ferns. A table with a prayer box stood to the side.

The most striking aspect of this event was its casual and amicable atmosphere. The event seemed focused on the visitor, as though the altar had been raised as an invitation for outreach, not as a shrine for aesthetic admiration. Upon arrival, visitors were asked to sign a guest registry. The hostess seemed quite intent on acknowledging the visitors' presence and related that last year's event had drawn over two hundred guests. Chairs were situated in a highly informal matter, not separated from the altar area. Everyone ate in the same space, which was somewhat limited, able to accommodate about thirty persons at a time. The tight quarters necessitated that visitors sit close; conversations thus spilled from one group to another. While the mood was in no way raucous, the scene was light and relaxed, evoking free conversation and quiet laughter. The trio of women who managed the serving area-where large bowls of spaghetti sat on an unpretentious table with a red-and-white checkered cloth-were pleasant and affable. All in attendance dressed casually. The effect was almost bohemian. The visitors exhibited no outward signs of either Catholic or Sicilian attachment. The visitors were predominately white, though different ages and class positions were represented.

The altar event provided the visitor with numerous handouts and devotional materials pertaining to Saint Joseph. Without question the altar served to express the spirituality of the hostess and her thankfulness for the intervention of the saint. However, the event gave no indication of proselytizing. Rather it gave the impression that the hostess wished to share her thankfulness, and that her appreciation was not so much evident in piety but in the hospitality offered to the visitor.

My visits to various Saint Joseph altars around the city confirmed that the altars, while honoring the patron saint, simultaneously served other than a religious function. As evidenced by the first two events I documented, the altar can serve to consolidate the boundaries of an in-group. In the case of the Provincial House, the altar was utilized as something of a showcase, highlighting the civic position of the home (and by extension the Catholic Church) and its relationships to the local community, including businesses. The altar in the home of Joe T. was likewise used to demarcate an in-group belonging, in this case the Sicilian kinship relation. In both instances the displays were the unchallenged focus of attention, signifying the monetary, personal, and spiritual investment of the hosts.

The third and fourth celebrations I examined expressed a greater emphasis on the visitor. Though the altars were prominently positioned, the energy and focus of the event seemed diffuse, circulating throughout the staging area. In the instance of Saint Alphonsus, the church space seemed to host a kind of vortex, with visitors more focused upon conversation, food, and interconnection than the viewing of the altar. The same can be said of the event hosted by Diane W., where a welcoming social environment seemed as important as the altar itself.

To conclude, the insider-outsider dynamic evident in the Saint Joseph altar events illuminates the cultural service that current-day religious practice can provide. Given the New Orleans social context, where a wide array of identity affiliations co-exist, mix, and mingle, the altar performance offers a peculiar kind of opportunity. It allows for the confirmation of identity boundaries (sometimes in an exclusionary way); yet it also offers the possibility of drawing differing identities into a communal space, of allowing a hospitality for the other without asserting the superiority of one position over another. This later instance works to expedite the community effect and allows for renegotiation of cultural intersections. Saint Joseph is celebrated and honored as the patron saint of the family, which informs the celebration of intimacy based on blood ties and cultural kinship. However, Saint Joseph is also regarded as the great "foster father," a status that highlights the protective and caring quality extended to all. This dual aspect suggests that the Saint Joseph's Day celebration can continue, perhaps even thrive, in a contemporary urban setting, as an event that can confirm and conserve the family, while expanding the breadth and understanding of who can belong.


Altared States. 1985. Gambit, 23 March, n. pag.

Cole, Al, ed. 1985. Viva San Guiseppe: A Guide for Saint Joseph Altars. New Orleans, LA: Saint Joseph's Guild.

Duplantier, Stephen. 1983. The Cult of Saint Joseph in Kenner. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 5 (3): 40-45.

Estes, David. 1987. Saint Joseph's Day in New Orleans: Contemporary Urban Varieties of an Ethnic Festival. Louisiana Folkore Miscellany 6 (2): 35-43.

Garvey, Joan B, and Mary Lou Widmer. 1982. Beautiful Crescent: A History of New Orleans. New Orleans, LA: Garmer Press.

Huber, Leonard. 1971. New Orleans: A Pictorial History. New York, NY: Crown Publishers, Inc.

McColloste, Mary Ann Tusa. 1970. New Light on the New Orleans Saint Joseph Altar. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 3 (1): 38-45.

Monica, Vera. 1985. Unemployed to Get Lift from Patron Saint. Times Picayune/States Item, 19 March, n. pag.

Orso, Ethelyn. 1990. The Saint Joseph Altar Tradition of South Louisiana. Lafayette, LA: Center for Louisiana Studies.

Orso, Ethelyn, and Peggy Kaveski. 1975. Undisclosed Aspects of the Saint Joseph Altar. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 3 (5): 14-18.

Plemer, Rosalynn. 1968. The Feast of Saint Joseph. Louisiana Folklore Miscellany 2 (4): 85-100.

Pope, John. 1985. Bank Teller's Saint Joseph Altar Says Amen to Power of Prayer. Times Picayune/States Item, 19 March, n. pag.

Saxon, Lyle, Edward Dreyer, and Robert Tallant. 1987. Gumbo Ya-Ya: A Collection of Louisiana Folktales. Gretna, LA: Pelican Press.

Treadway, Joan. 1992. An Insider's Guide to Saint Joseph Altars. Times Picayaune, 18 March, n. pag.


1. The most detailed history of the holiday appears in Ethelyn Orso, The Saint Joseph Day Altar Tradition of South Louisiana.

2. From an unpublished typescript found in the "Social Life and Customs" vertical file in the Louisiana Collection of the Tulane University Library.

3. From text on the back of a Saint Joseph prayer card given at a private residence.

4. From an information sheet given at residence of Joe T.

5. From material on the symbolic aspect of the altar foods found on handout provided at the Cabrini School.

6. For a brief overview of Italian immigration, see Huber 1971: 56.

7. For a survey of this incident, see Garvey and Widner 1982: 167-68.

This article was originally published in the 2000 issue of the Louisiana Folklore Miscellany and is reprinted with permission. Leslie Wade is the Billy J. Harbin Professor of Theatre at Louisiana State University.