The Solemnity of Saint Joseph is the principal feast day of Saint Joseph, spouse of the Virgin Mary. By the 10th century, the feast was already fairly widespread throughout Western calendars but was fully established by the Vatican in 1479. In 1570, Pope Pius V extended the feast to the full Roman Rite when he released the Apostolic Constitution Quo primum (from t he first). From then until 1911 it remained a double of the second class and a feast of precept. In 1911, Pope Pius X reduced the amount of holy days of obligation from 36 to 8 and the Solemnity of Saint Joseph existed no more. However, in 1917, it was re-raised to be of precept and given the rank of double of the first class which is now referred to as a Solemnity. The date falls on march 19th, which is always within the Lenten season, though Episcopal Conferences are allowed to transfer the date to one outside of Lent.
Thought it falls within Lent, the Solemnity of Saint Joseph is a rare date within Lent where the Gloria may be sung, the vesture changed from violet to white or gold, the Collect and the Eucharistic Prayer's Preface used from the Solemnity and not Lent and where the hymns taken on a more joyous theme. Should the date fall on a Sunday other than Palm Sunday, it is transferred to the next available day (therefore falling on March 20th some years) unless the Solemnity falls during Holy Week, in which case it is transferred to the closest possible day prior to March 19th. The exception to the rule is if the 1962 Missal is used according to the provisions of Summorum Pontificum - in which case the day must be transferred to the next possible date AFTER March 19th, even if it falls inside Holy Week (though it is generally moved to the Tuesday following Low Sunday). The 1983 Code of Canon Law allows for days of precept to be suppressed and the day is now a required day in the United States. In addition to going to Mass, Catholics should, on Solemnities,
“abstain from those works and affairs which hinder the worship to be rendered to God, the joy proper to the Lord’s day, or the suitable relaxation of mind and body.”
Many countries throughout the world have incredible traditions on this Solemnity:
Because Sicily honors Saint Joseph as it's Patron Saint, grand celebrations are held on the Solemnity. Food is given away to the poor and needy as a special custom and many communities wear red clothing. The pastry known as zeppola is also often eaten on the Solemnity, as is a traditionally Sicilian dish known as Maccu di San Giuseppe. Saint Joseph's day altars are also extremely popular - Sicilians create elaborate altars decorated with figurines, medals, candles and many types of food (typically food with crumbs is placed to symbolize Saint Joseph's work as a carpenter - the crumbs represent sawdust). The altar generally has three sections or tiers to represent the Trinity. In the town of Belmonte Mezzagno a large bonfire is lit in the square the day before and is known as "A Vampa di San Guiseppe" or Saint Joseph's bonfire.
In Malta, Saint Joseph's Day has been celebrated since the 10th century as a day of remembrance, with most businesses closing for the day. The old capital of Malta, Mdina, holds three main events - special masses honoring Saint Joseph, processions with fireworks, and finally one major procession with a statue of Saint Joseph carried to the church of Saint Mary of Jesus. The entire day is a public holiday in Malta and is known as Jum San Guzepp.
In Spain, Saint Joseph's day is celebrated much like Father's Day is celebrated in America. The day is known as El Dia dei Padre and children often give their father's small gifts and cook breakfast for them, showing their love for their father. The Falla Festival ends on March 19th after running for five days leading up to it.
Polish families celebrate Saint Joseph's Day with a Saint Joseph's table in their house decorated with red and white. The day is considered a meatless day to maintain Lenten fasting and a famous hymn that honors Saint Joseph is called Duszo moja, O Jozefie Ukochany. Another famous saying is:
Swiety Jozef kiwnie broda, idzie zima nadol z woda. (St. Joseph shakes his beard, and see, winter has disappeared!)
In the Philippines, families often celebrate Saint Joseph's Day with a banquet held for the Holy Family. A older man, younger women and small boy are chosen to be the representations of the Holy Family at the banquet. They are seated around the table with the family's finest silverware and they are spoon-fed by the hosting family. The three representatives of the Holy Family then give blessings to the host family.
The Solemnity of Saint Joseph is celebrated heavily in New Orleans as the port became a major entryway for Sicilians arriving in the late 1800s. Public and Private altars are set up to honor Saint Joseph and some groups of Mardi Gras Indians hold their last procession before dismantling their costumes. In other portions of the country, especially the New York/New Jersey area where there are large amounts of Italians, people wear red clothing and attend special masses offered for Saint Joseph. Polish Catholic's in America also hold Saint Joseph's Day feasts known as Saint Joseph's Day tables.