On Sunday, March 15, 2020, the Omaha Polish Club at 201 E. 1st Street in Papillion, Nebraska celebrated their St. Joseph’s Day Celebration. Traditionally, Polish Catholics celebrate this holiday on March 19. St. Joseph’s Day celebrates St. Joseph, Patron Saint of, “unborn children, fathers, workers, travelers, and a happy death.”[i] The Roman Catholic Church grants a dispensation during Lent on that day, so that Polish and Italian people can celebrate. The day consists of tradition, polka music, and dancing.[ii]
St. Joseph was the husband to the Virgin Mary and stepfather to Jesus. It originated during the Middle Ages when Sicily experienced drought. The fava bean grew during this time sustaining families and became an important symbol of St. Joseph’s Day. Sicilians prayed to St. Joseph for rain to relieve the drought. God gave permission to St. Joseph to grant rain, answering their prayers. The drought ended, and people celebrated this act annually giving food and clothing to the needy. Both Polish and Italian Immigrants brought these traditions to the United States.[iii]
When Polish and Italian people came to the United States, they found themselves excluded in the Church because of language and cultural gaps. There were few to no Polish or Italian Catholic Churches. Most congregations were Irish Roman Catholic Clergy. To address this issue, Poles and Italians built their own churches with priests from their homelands. St. Joseph’s Day became their St. Patrick’s Day.[iv]
On the day of celebration, many Polish and Italians wear red, a color that appears in both country’s flag. Instead of Shamrock’s, participants, “Carry lucky fava beans.” They hold parades and have meatless tables called St. Joseph’s Table. For Poles, they hold these banquets in church halls with tables decorated in red and white that contain statues or holy cards of St. Joseph along with donation bowls for the needy. [v]
St. Joseph is the patron of unborn children. Many traditions follow from this. Lemons play an important role in this part of the celebration. If a single female secretly takes a lemon from a family alter, Sicilian legend holds that she will get married prior to the next St. Joseph’s Day. In the United States, folklore holds that if a married woman steals a lemon from the alter and puts it under her pillow, that she will soon have a child.[vi]
Like St. Patrick’s Day, the parade is an essential part of the celebration. The parade runs through immigrant communities. The parade participants pass out beads along the route representing Polish colors and dried fava beans. At the end of the parade, people congregate and celebrate with wine and food. Polka music and dancing provides entertainment for the celebration.[vii]
St. Joseph’s Day celebrations in the United States continues a tradition that arose from Sicily. Every year, Polish and Italian Americans get together to honor St. Joseph. The tradition brings out the spirit of merriment and charity that resonates through the all communities. Every year, it is another time to come together.
[i] “St. Joseph,” Catholic Online, https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=4
[ii] Barbara Rolek, “St. Joseph’s Day in Poland” (30 July 2019),
[iii] Nicole Jankowski, “Move Over, St. Patrick: St. Joseph’s Feast is When Italians Parade” (18 March 2017), The Salt, accessed 20 May 2020.