Festa di San Giuseppe and Zeppole

Posted By | Posted On Mar 17, 2014

In Italy la festa dei papa, the equivalent of Father’s Day, falls on March 19, the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph), the husband of Mary and the foster father of Jesus. Italians celebrate with special foods and gifts from the children to their Babbo (Daddy in Tuscany, Sardinia, and several southern regions) or Papa (pronounced pa-PAH) in other regions.

Sicilians in particular, give thanks to San Giuseppe, whom many consider their patron saint, for saving their countrymen from famine in the Middle Ages. A terrible drought destroyed most of the crops, and people began to die of starvation. The Sicilians promised their saint to prepare a huge feast for all if he would bring rain. At midnight on March 19th the rains came and crops prospered.

Zeppole from Maria's Pastry Shop

Filled Zeppole from Maria’s Pastry Shop

Maria preparing all of the Zeppole

Maria preparing all of the Zeppole

In St Joseph’s honor, Sicilians and those of Sicilian descent celebrate the day by erecting an altar with levels to represent the Holy Trinity. The altar is adorned with specially formed breads, often featuring bread in the shape of a staff, symbolizing the humble carpenter. The finest legumes, grains, fruits, vegetables, seafood and wine are selected and the poor are invited to share in their prayer and festivity.

One of the most typical foods served for this feast are the pastry called zeppole di San Giuseppe, or sfinci in Sicily and bigne in Rome. The pastry is choux paste (think French doughnut) fried in the shape of a ring and either topped or filled with yellow pastry cream (custard) and sour cherry jam, then covered with powdered sugar.  Some pastry shops also offer a choice of ricotta cream or whipped cream instead of the custard. Do indulge – they are so wonderful and only made once a year… it’ll be easy to work them off soon… spring’s coming, right?


  1. Michele says:

    Hi Lea,

    Here in Boston people celebrate by eating the Zeppole di San Giuseppe, and the best ones in the North End are to be found at Maria’s Pastry Shop at 44 Cross Street. Tomorrow afternoon there will be a line at the door!

    Kind regards,


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