A Feast for Fathers in the Italian Language

Mar 17, 2015


La Festa del Papà

In Italy la Festa del Papà (Father's Day) falls on March 19, the feast of San Giuseppe (St. Joseph), the husband of Mary and earthly father of Jesus.   Joseph not only supports fathers in their task of trying to fare da babbo a qualcuno (help or guide someone) but also looks after orphans, unwed mothers, the needy and the homeless.

Particularly in Sicily and the South, Italians celebrate this onomastico (patron saint's day) with a cena di San Giuseppe, a ritual meal, and ornamental breads. Made with golden grano duro wheat, they may be shaped into flowers, angels, birds, fish and bunches of grapes. The pane grosso (big bread) of St. Joseph is formed like his staff, which bloomed with entwining flower blossoms to single him out from Mary's other suitors as her husband-to-be.

In her classic Celebrating Italy, Carol Field describes St. Joseph's day as a "feast of bread that invokes the powers of fertility and riches of the earth." Like a doting babbo (Daddy), Joseph also indulges the sweet tooth of children of all ages with plenty of mouth-watering dolci (sweets) and pasticcini (pastries).

The feast's traditional dishes include:

    *maccù— a soup made of favas, lentils and peas cooked together until they form a puree thick enough to eat with a fork. The word maccù comes from ammaccare (to crush), which is what happens to anything left in the pantry that can be added to this end-of-winter dish.

    *pesce d'uova di Salemi — fritters called "poor man's fish" made of flavored bread crumbs, grated cheese and eggs and shaped like little fish

    *cassateddi — turnovers filled with sweetened ricotta cheese, fried in oil and rolled in cinnamon sugar

    *sfinci di San Giuseppe — fried puffs of dough filled with ricotta, chocolate chips and orange peel and topped with extra cream and a sprinkling of pistachio nuts

    *zeppole di San Giuseppe — Italian doughnuts made of bigné dough, fried, filled with pastry cream and topped with an amarena cherry

    *fritelle di San Giuseppe — rice fritters flavored with lemon and orange zest and covered with granulated sugar.*

*Recipes available for all these dishes in Celebrating Italy.

St. Joseph's feast represents the abundance that a good father provides his family, explains an Italian friend.  And how does one feel after this veritable orgy of eating? 

"Mi sento zeppo, piena zeppolo!" he replied. (I feel full, absolutely full!)

Words and Expressions

padre padrone –- tyrannical, domineering father

padrino — godfather

tale padre, tale figlio — like father, like son

di padre in figlio –- from father to son

figlio di papà — daddy's boy, spoiled and wealthy young man

Dianne Hales is the author of MONA LISA: A Life Discovered and LA BELLA LINGUA: My Love Affair with Italian, the World's Most Enchanting Language.

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