St. Patrick's Day (Mar. 17) Curls and St. Joseph Day (Mar. 19) Altars
Mar 15 2017

St. Patrick's Day (Mar. 17) Curls and St. Joseph Day (Mar. 19) Altars

By: Keith John Paul Horcasitas

It is so fun to attend the annual St. Patrick's Day Parade in Baton Rouge, like in da Big Easy, and join in the fun Green emphasis. In 2008, we made our yearly trek to near Perkins and Acadian, when the old Wal-Mart was still there. We usually get to see some folks there that we only get to see at that time of the year - former co-workers, colleagues, friends etc. 

A couple of times, we went to Hundred Oaks and Acadian to see how Pat Shingleton, WBRZ Chief Meteorologist, gets to orchestrate the event where it all starts. It is amazing to see how he keeps things flowing so well per all kinds of communication tools - the megaphone blow-horn is always at his side. Truly, St. Pat has to be intervening for him as the organized chaos always seems to go off without a hitch! 

When we arrived early since parking is at a premium near Hundred Oaks, I would take our youngest boy, JP, in one of those red wagons - which made for a great repository for the beads, doubloons, etc. that the many riding revelers would throw to us. And I it was neat to get an early look at the floats as we strolled by en-route to Acadian. 

We usually get more throws from this parade than any other - including the very generous New Orleans Mardi Gras truck groups like Elks and Crescent City. It was not unusual for us to be leaving with 2 or 3 heads of cabbage - more than the one coconut that we finally got once from Zulu. 

About seven years ago, we attended the parade near Debbie's house on Perkins where the Parade passes right in front of her house. That was one of the first times I'd had the Green Beer. I never thought I could like a Dixie beer any better than in its original state, but I was wrong! 

And it appears that more people actually dress up for St. Patrick's Day than Mardi Gras. I recall seeing more variations of green than I've ever seen before at these gatherings. Many times, I used an old Crusader costume in that color from when I rode on a float with that theme in the NO Freret St. Parade - I had so much fun that I ran out of throws by the time I got to Canal St! 
St. Patrick's Day (Mar. 17) Curls and St. Joseph Day (Mar. 19) Altars

One of the funniest BR St. Patrick Day Parade memories is from about 6 years ago near the old Wal-Mart on Perkins. JP and I were having a great time catching all kinds of things, including many stuffed animals that people couldn't resist throwing him. 

As the parade was winding down and there were some participants staggering on their way by, one tall bearded dude with a green cowboy hat was headed in our direction. After giving a green flower to a pretty LSU decked out gal nearby, after which he received a spectacular kiss, he seemed determined to come towards me holding JP. 

It should be noted that JP, at that time, had accumulated a huge dose of curly hair, which I had been negligent on having gotten cut. So anyway, this Green capped Cowboy walks up to us with these fancy beads in his hands and proceeded to say: "I've been waiting all during this parade to give these beads to the cutest little girl that I would see here - so here ya go!" - after which he stumbled and almost fell to the ground. 

So you can imagine who made a quick visit to the barber shop immediately after that. We all laugh about that now as we look forward to the upcoming Pat Shingleton shuffle! 

And as Mardi Gras has just passed and we are into the season of Lent, we can still find ways to celebrate with family and friends as per the upcoming Feast of St. JosephMarch 19, which is also when the swallows make their annual return to the Mission San Juan Capistrano in California. My wife, Maria, and I look forward to the many traditions and treasures associated with the St. Joseph Altars that certainly brings back so many cherished memories for many of us living in southeast Louisiana. 

Even though we both grew up in New Orleans, my family didn't participate as much in the St. Joseph Altars as with Maria's family, who have an Italian family heritage. Her widowed Aunt Rose was a special lady who every year would erect a carefully crafted St. Joseph Altar at her own home no matter what she was dealing with. Despite the struggles she had dealt with for many years of providing direct home care to her invalid husband, Anthony, she continued this tradition of dedication to St. Joseph until she died in 1985. 

I was amazed to find then out how much time she had dedicated to preparing all of the various meals and sweets for the altar and how the tradition had begun. The Pasta Milanese non-meat dish and fig cookies were and still are my favorite treats; it is fun to sprinkle a “saw dust” mixture of brown sugar and Italian Seasoning on the Milanese! Aunt Rose educated me about the background to the St. Joseph altar and how it was Sicilian in origin back to the Middle Ages. 

During a famine, when food was very scarce and limited to things like fava beans, a livestock feed, the people of Sicily pleaded to St. Joseph, their patron saint, for relief, and the famine ended. In gratitude, they prepared a table with foods they had harvested. After paying homage to St. Joseph, they distributed the food to the less fortunate. 

The St. Joseph altar is set up in three tiers, representing the Holy Trinity. A statue of St. Joseph is on the top tier surrounded by flowers, greenery, and fruit. No meat is prepared for the altar, since the Feast takes place during Lent. Breads, cakes, and cookies, baked in symbolic Christian shapes, are prepared for the altar. Donations are usually taken at the altars to distribute to varying charities to help the poor. 

St. Patrick's Day (Mar. 17) Curls and St. Joseph Day (Mar. 19) Altars

Petitions of the faithful can be written on pieces of paper and placed in baskets on the Altar along with photos of deceased relatives and friends to be remembered. Usually, people visiting the altar will be given a “goodie bag” containing a napkin, a few cookies, a piece of fruit and perhaps a St. Joseph prayer card or a medal, as well as fava beans that bode for good fortune. 

In New Orleans, where Maria belonged to the Elenian Club, an Italian-American organization, they used to hold the annual St. Joseph's Altar at the Piazaa de Italia – it was incredible how large the Altar was and how it encompassed so many varied depictions and statues of St. Joseph and the Holy Family. 

In Baton Rouge, there are many varied traditional Altars by the “Grandsons of Italy” and other organizations. I usually try to attend the Bishop's Mass that is held every year at St. Joseph's Cathedral on St. Joseph's Day with a meal held afterward. We have been to some recent gatherings locally at other local churches and enjoyed learning other traditions.  

Today, in Baton Rouge, we attended the beautiful St. Joseph Altar at Cypress Springs Prayer Center, where Sr. Dulce and her Mercedarian Order reside and help so many folks in need.  They were just able to return to their residence a few weeks ago after having been flooded out, as many in the Greater Baton Rouge area were affected by the Historic August Floods of 2016

St. Joseph's Hospice, which helped my displaced parents from New Orleans who died in 2006 and had never gotten back to New Orleans after Katrina, also do a nice altar every year. We have also enjoyed helping one that is celebrated every year at Cypress Heights Academy where our youngest child attends. In the past, I recall looking in the Classified Ads of the Advocate to find people who invite anyone to come to view their altars. We went to one of these as a family and it was so neat to share in our devotion to St. Joseph!

While St. Joseph is known as the Patron Saint for the dying and a great intercessor for those looking for employment, he has also been prayed to for help in selling one's home. I have never espoused to the superstition of putting a statue of St. Joseph upside down underground on your property to aid in getting it sold. We did, however, make a donation to the Sisters of St. Joseph in New Orleans before getting a buyer for our house no long before we moved to Baton Rouge!

It is neat to think how a person named Joseph in the both the Old Testament and New Testament were pivotal figures in following God's commands. Joseph, whom God communicated with so powerfully through dreams, helped pave the way for the Jewish people's safety into Egypt. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, was so obedient to God's communications to him per dreams in leading the Holy Family in safety to Egypt. While there is no recorded word attributed to Joseph in the New Testament, like the old saying, “Actions speak louder than words!” 

As I have had a special devotion to both Mary and Joseph, I had always wanted to write and record a song for him. Finally, while on my Manresa Retreat in 2000, I wrote this song dedicated to him: 
Who could have ever dreamed to be 
Our Lord Savior's dad on earth 
The angel reassured you that the Holy Spirit 
Had blessed Mary and the world with New Birth 
(Mt. 1: 18 – 25) 

Who could have ever dreamed to flee 
From Herod to Egypt with the King of Kings 
The angel also guided you to Nazareth 
To fulfill all that the Prophets did sing 
(Mt. 2: 13 – 23) 

Faithful partner, chaste and true 
Mary’s companion, a carpenter too 
Faithful father, Jesus grew 
By following your example in what to do 
(Mt. 1, 2; Lk. 1, 2) 

Who could have ever dreamed at Passover to see 
The Son of David in Jerusalem and starting to preach 
He wasn’t lost in the Temple but obeyed Our Father’s Call 
As He would later do with the Cross to teach 
(Lk. 2: 41 – 52) 

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