Italian-Americans celebrate St. Joseph’s Day

“Viva San Giuseppe” is an Italian phrase perfect for today.

Today is St. Joseph’s (San Giuseppe) Day, an important day for the Italian-American community. According to tradition, the celebration called St. Joseph’s Table goes back to a severe drought in Sicily during the Middle Ages.

The peasants prayed to St. Joseph and when the rains came, they thanked St. Joseph by having a feast for everyone in the community.

An important part of the menu and a decorative part of the table is St. Joseph’s bread.

On Saturday, Christine Panasci and Josie Christopher met at the Pizza Village on Lake Shore Drive to create bread for the occasion. They started out with 28 cups of flour.

When questioned, they said that the dough also contained yeast, sugar (sometimes honey) and salt but did not supply the measurements.

Luckily Pizza Village has a large mixer, which made the job easier. The business also donated the ingredients.

Asked how long she has been making St. Joseph’s Day bread, Panasci answered, “Let’s see. I am 83 and I started working with my mother when I was a child.”

Panasci said she worked at Pizza Village for years and then came sometimes to “help out.” She treated Rich Hazelton and Dana Wright, two employees with whom she had worked, like sons.

The fun started when Christopher and Panasci began to form the dough into shapes. As they worked they joked with each other and recalled Italian (Sicilian) words.

Christopher shaped dough into three rope-like pieces and deftly braided them into a loaf. Panasci created a crown of thorns. The employees helped her find a mug that they covered with aluminum foil to put in the center, so that when the bread rose, the center would not close in.

Christopher said the point was to be creative in shaping the dough. She created some panuzzo (little bread) which she said is given to the children. Another shape created was vastuni di San Giuseppe (cane of St. Joseph).

Hazelton decided he would like to try to create a shape and wanted to do a heart. Panasci and Christopher encouraged him to try it.

“It’s all about being creative,” Christopher said.

The bread was left to rise. Later an egg wash and sesame seeds were applied and the creations were baked.

Holy Trinity Church celebrated its St. Joseph’s Day on Sunday with two seatings for ticket holders.

CIAO also held its celebration on Sunday at St. Joseph’s Church. See page A9 for an account of that event.

Today, the actual St. Joseph’s Day, the Colony Restaurant in Silver Creek will be holding a traditional table. According to hostess Cari Hartinger, all 160 seats are sold out.

This is the third year the restaurant has held a St. Joseph’s table. Jeff LaBarbera, the chef, is very proud of the event.

“It’s his heritage,” said Hartinger.