Today is St. Joseph’s Day.
Normally, it's a tradition in the region and throughout the world for Italian families to gather together and share a meatless meal with dozens of their closest friends and family members.
In my own family, we typically gather together by the dozens in somebody’s home, sharing a traditional potluck of dishes.
Our list of favorites includes: pasta con sarde, which is a spaghetti sauce flavored with smashed sardines; frocia, which is a vegetable omelette, and a multitude of desserts.
Then there's the magnificent St. Joseph’s Day bread, which is so soft and aromatic. Slathered with butter, it is always worth passing by the dessert table.
Like many families across America right now, my family won’t be gathering around the St. Joseph's Day table this year.
Last week, we decided to postpone our beloved little feast, choosing care and caution instead of joyous celebration.
With this virus lingering around, we may not be gathering together at any table for a few months.
I am happy to report that this virus has not tempered the spirit of the holiday itself.
Many local Italian restaurants in Niagara County are still offering traditional St. Joseph’s day dishes, via pick-ups at their counters or through curbside or home delivery.
The Como’s three restaurants in Niagara Falls and Lewiston will offer their St. Joseph dishes on Friday, including frocia with cardoons, stuffed artichokes, calamari marinara and house-made Italian cookies and St. Jospeh’s Day breads.
My friend, Jack Soldano, the wonderful chef at Casa Antica in Lewiston, is cooking pasta con sarde today and, with a little help from his wife, offering a special Spingi de San Giuseppe, the lovely little fried doughnuts stuffed with ricotta cheese, for pick-up or delivery.
In Lockport, Molinaro's Ristorante is offering traditional buttered bread crumbs with spaghetti, St. Joseph's Day breads and fresh-made fig cookies called cuccidati for pick-up or delivery.
In addition, DiCamillo bakeries are giving away free St. Joseph's Day Bread with any purchase, all made in traditional shapes like crosses and canes.
Michael DiCamillo told me the family was happy to do so.
“We’ve been a part of this community for 100 years and we owe it a lot," he said.
Giving food away is what St. Joseph's Day is all about. It's tradition to share the feast with all comers, family members, friends and those in need. That's also what's happening at The Little Bakery in Niagara Falls.
The family and friends of owners Samantha Bassett and her finance, Jason Conte, are making about 600 loaves of bread every day, selling them via their walk-up window on 19th Street behind the City Market. Jason told me they are also delivering to those who can't make it to the bakery because they don't have cars. And most importantly, if they learn someone doesn't have enough money to pay, they are giving away their pizza and bread.
Conte told me this is just what they do.
During the General Motors strike, he said they gave away about 3,000 loaves of bread.
These days, they're also giving away toilet paper and are waiting on a shipment of hand sanitizer and hand wipes to give away as well.
The Little Bakery's generosity is not necessarily in celebration of St. Joseph's Day.
It just happens to be part of what St. Joseph's Day is all about.
Michael DiCamillo explains on his dicamillobakery.com blog how the tradition started in Sicily after a devastating disaster — a terrible drought. People prayed to St. Joseph and when he made it rain, they celebrated with a feast which grew into an annual event.
On his blog, Michael notes that St. Joseph's Day is a time "where the riches of food are given as alms to the poor" and where "traditional etiquette is that no one can be turned away from this table."
I guess it's serendipitous that St. Joseph's Day is today.
We are reminded that giving to others is what defines the best of us.
In times of crisis, it is what will sustain us and bring us hope.
And when the light returns, stories of our kindness and generosity will become the history we'll be most proud to remember.
So, on St. Joseph's Day, and always, long live the loving spirit of St. Joseph.
Or, as they say in Italian, "Viva San Giuseppe!"
Michele DeLuca is lifestyles editor for the Niagara Gazette and the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal. She can be reached at 282-2311, ext. 2263 or via email at email@example.com.