The tradition of celebrating Saint Joseph's Day every March 19 is strong among New Orleanians at large, and especially those New Orleanians of Italian and Sicilian heritage. Altars, elaborate and modest, are erected in churches and in private homes; sesame-sprinkled, almond-flavored, and fig-filled cookies are baked by the thousands. La festa di San Giuseppe (the feast of Saint Joseph) is prepared citywide, always including meatless pasta Milanese and breadcrumb-stuffed artichokes. Lucky dried fava beans are gathered by the faithful and the superstitious, both of whom believe that keeping a lucky bean in a wallet or pocketbook will keep them in good fortune until the following March 19.
In this excerpt from Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table, Sara Roahen describes her own experiences with New Orleans' Saint Joseph's Day customs, beginning with the story of Ernest Hansen's final trip to a Saint Joseph altar, just days before his death, and concluding with the Fagot family. Marie Fagot had worked on altars to the saint for fifty consecutive years until Hurricane Katrina and the eventual failure of the federal levee system interrupted her momentum and destroyed her Lakeview neighborhood home. In Marie's story, Roahen finds a microcosm of Katrina-related suffering, and also the inspiration to look ahead.