Making a Simple St. Joseph’s Day Altar (Liturgical Living Doesn’t Have to Be Perfect)

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Yesterday, March 19th, was St. Joseph’s feast day. And every year, we forget to celebrate. Maybe it’s because it’s Lent? Maybe it’s because St. Patrick’s Day comes just two days before. Even though it’s not as important a feast as St. Joseph’s Day, it seems to overshadow it because St. Patrick’s Day is a big deal culturally for Americans (because so many of us are descended from Irish immigrants) while St. Joseph’s Day isn’t.


And our St. Patrick’s Day celebrations are usually solid. I found a gluten-free Irish Soda Bread recipe I like and this year I tried making Corned Beef for the first time. We added collards from our garden instead of cabbage and it was delicious. I even picked up a Shamrock and some gluten-free chocolate and peppermint cupcakes at Trader Joe’s and the kids thought I had been swapped with the kind of fun mom who let’s you have bright-colored desserts. “Wait….we CAN buy those green cupcakes? Like we’re really buying them? I can put them in the cart?” Live it up, kids. Mean mom will be back soon.

Anyhow, we’ve got a favorite St. Patrick picture book to read and a St. Patrick’s Day groove. But, St. Joseph’s Day? Not so much. And the truth is, with all the ideas about liturgical celebrations floating around the internet, sometimes I get overwhelmed before I begin. Because whatever I’m going to pull off won’t be as pretty as so-and-so’s. Or because I don’t have the supplies for all ten crafty activities that what’s-her-name is doing with her kids. So I just give up.

But it doesn’t have to be like that. It can be simple. It can be relaxed. It can be YOUR celebration, not somebody else’s. Just picking one special thing to do isn’t just good enough, it’s great. So THIS YEAR, I decided we would start a tradition for St. Joseph, even if it wouldn’t be perfect.Β 

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I read about St. Joseph’s Day Altars when I was researching resources for my March Liturgical Living post. It’s a very popular tradition in Sicily and is also alive and well in New Orleans where my husband grew up. I threw out the idea to combine a St. Joseph’s Day Altar party with the weekly playdate of Catholic moms and they were all for it. So, since my house was 60% clean, I offered to host and the night before we discussed a few ideas about what each of us would bring.

Traditionally, flowers, candles, food (pastries, breads, and cakes in the shape of fish and also fava beans) and statues/religious images of St. Joseph are placed on the altar which is three-tiered to represent the Holy Trinity. So, we drew from those traditions and everyone who attended brought any flowers from their home, candles, images and statues of St. Joseph, and food. Since some of the kids are allergic to gluten and some are allergic to dairy, we kept it simple by putting fruit that everyone could eat on the altar. (The apples were sampled by one of the toddlers. Probably to make sure they were safe for St. Joseph?)


Because helping our children participate in the Christian Year and learn about our Faith is the real goal here, we tried to engage them as much as possible. My friend Kaitlin brought St. Joseph coloring pages and read the kids St. Joseph’s Story.

Then the kids lined up and each had a chance to place the fruit, candles, and icons on the altar. A pineapple, a shamrock from St. Patrick’s Day, rainbow carnations, a bowl of cherry tomatoes, oranges, strawberries…it wasn’t perfectly authentic with our mishmash of items, but it turned out beautiful!

So don’t be discouraged or overwhelmed. Don’t feel like you have to celebrate every saint’s day or celebrate just like someone else’s family. Just jump in and share your love for your faith, however that looks for you. That’s what your kids will remember. Not how well your crafty activity turned out or how perfectly decorated the cupcakes were. Being with you, learning about faith together. That’s what matters.

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The kids were so proud of their altar and had a great time! I hope it’s something they will always remember and will be excited to do again next year with Kaitlin, Jeni, and Neely‘s little ones!

And in case you were wondering if our feasting ever flops….

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This Sicilian Baked Fish recipe I made for St. Joseph’s Day dinner? Nope. Not making it into the next cookbook. Just. Not. Good. Remind that I don’t want to see the phrase “anchovy paste” in a recipe ever again.

(You can check out our actually edible recipes for the liturgical year in our book, Feast!)

Did anyone do something special for St. Joseph’s Day or have family traditions to share? Does anyone else get overwhelmed with all the things you COULD do to observe the Christian Year?

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  1. Erin says

    I set up a simple St. Joseph’s altar last year, but this year, like you said, the feast kind of snuck up on me. It was the morning of when I decided I wanted to do something to mark the feast of my husband and son’s patron but hadn’t planned anything and we would be gone most of the day. Ultimately, I moved make your own pizza night (that’s Italian!) up a couple of days on the meal plan, we said a prayer next to the St. Joseph picture in my son’s room, and read Song of the Swallows. I figured it was enough. Then in a stroke of genius, I suggested my husband take my son out to the garage to work with some wood, which is one of his pastimes anyway. Father-son bonding, a liturgical year activity, and some down time for me!

    • Haley says

      Ooo, I love make your own pizza nights. I need to find a good GF pizza crust. And we love Song of the Swallows πŸ™‚

  2. says

    Ours was even simpler like this, but such a nice celebration, regardless. I read my son the Fr. Lovasik book about St. Joseph during the day. And my husband and him prayed the prayer to St. Joseph from the back of the book before bed. We ate a “fancy dinner” (spaghetti carbonara, salad that actually had more things in it besides lettuce, and WINE!). And I actually made a dessert, which I never do. But the big hit for my 3.5 y.o. son was the “kid wine” (i.e. sparkling grape juice) he got to drink out of a “mini wine-glass” (i.e. shot glass with a stem). It definitely made the whole day seem so special to him, and he gushed, “I love St. Joseph’s Day!!”

  3. Celia says

    Nice! I remembered on Tuesday night, so we had (gluten-free) pasta con sarde, without the traditional breadcrumbs.

    I’m going to have to check out that soda bread recipe. I’ve been looking for one that actually tastes good.

  4. says

    You and I have different definitions of simple. I made some noodles and we said a quick prayer.

    I love the way you got the childrenfolk involved with it though. That’s awesome.

  5. says

    I love your message here.
    Thankfully, our parish hosted a massive St. Joseph alter, mass, and big dinner. It was fabulous. So on the actual day, we had coloring pages and a treat for my son’s name day and that was it.
    It’s such a blessing to have a solid catholic community like you show here. πŸ™‚

  6. Tori says

    I don’t have any comments about this specific post, just wanted to stop by and say hi! I’m a new reader and love your blog. As another former Baptist who went to a Baptist college in Kentucky and converted to Catholicism my senior year, I like to imagine we’d be friends in real life. I’m also a stay at home mama and I was an English major…so maybe I can come visit you in Florida and hang out with you and your precious family? πŸ˜‰ I go to a theology reading group with a former professor of mine; he went to Baylor with his wife and they are about your age and into liturgical living and community and growing and cooking their food, so I just assume they are the Baptist version of your family, which is a pretty good substitute. Guess that’s it for my bordering-on-creepy introduction…

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