March 19, 2010

Happy St. Joseph's Day!

Yes, yes, I know, we've just finished with the green beer and the shamrocks, the corned beef and cabbage, the dancing of jigs and the transatlantic greetings, but today is an important holiday, too. At least it could be if we all made more of a fuss about it.

Today is the feast of St. Joseph, husband of Mary, mother of Jesus and, according to my research, patron saint of all of the following: the Universal Church, Canada, travellers, fathers, workers, families, schools and a happy death. That just about covers it - at least in my life.

To be sure, St. Patrick's day is important for all of us who claim even an ounce of Irish blood in our veins. According to my family tree, my great-grandmother on my mother's father's side was Irish. In my younger days that was enough of a heritage to send me and my friends to an Irish pub to dance and drink the rainy night away on the 17th of March. By the looks of it, the Irish celebrate this national holiday with great gusto; after all, St. Patrick brought them something new to fight about and then drove out all the snakes. Kidding aside, a country like Ireland, whose Christian heritage has played such an obvious role in its riveting history, does well to acknowledge and celebrate St. Patrick. It makes good sense.

Following that line of logic, wouldn't Canada celebrate St. Joseph's day the same way as the Irish celebrate their patron saint's? Not so much. Canada is funny that way. It's full of saint-honouring Christians from a multitude of ethnic backgrounds, who have played a major role in the education of its citizens, the leadership of the nation, the building of it's infrastructure, and, let's face it, the building of the population itself, so shouldn't we have parades, dress up in brown linen robes and fake beards and decorate our homes and businesses in a hammer and saw motif (St. Joseph was a carpenter, in case you didn't know)? We wouldn't even have to dye our beer. It's available in a multitude of shades of brown already.

Perhaps the times are a-changin', though. I see in the local news that St. Ann's Parish in Abbotsford is having a 'Paddy and Joe Festival' this Saturday with dinner by Dutchman Caterer's (3 entree selection), a live band "The Groggin Noggins", cash bar, and Irish Dancing Entertainment. This new festival is apparently to celebrate the 'solemnity of St. Joseph, Patron Saint of Canada', but everything about it screams St. Patrick's Day. How typically Canadian. We lure you in with the promise of a good party, and while you're here we introduce, very tentatively, a new concept. We don't want to ruffle your feathers or come on like a tonne of bricks, which brings me to my final point: St. Joseph was, by all accounts, a quiet and gentle man, who taught his son how to work with wood, and was supportive to his wife - the ideal family man. He isn't the kind of saint with a resume of flashy miracles performed and wars averted by his influence. To my imagination he is like the good things about Canada itself: understated, humble, subtle in its international influence, but at the same time, always there working away for the good of the world, peacefully smiling over its challenges, enduring 'stormy weather' with patience, and wisely guiding and educating the next generation of 'bright lights'.

So, perhaps we Canadians are more correct than we know in how we celebrate our patron saint's day. St. Joseph probably wouldn't want much of a fuss made over him anyway. Still, while I will not be attending St. Ann's 'Paddy and Joe Festival', I will raise my glass of amber Kilkenny ale and wish you, from my heart, a very happy St. Joseph's Day.

The painting is Georges de la Tour's "St. Joseph the Carpenter" available as a print from


  1. Why thank you kind Canadian lady. But here in Ireland the St Joe's Day would not take as St Patrick's day has morphed into a full week via the lillywhite hand of some marketing twinky. Your Squeeze is in the business so you can understand the never-ending quest in the tourist industry to push the season with every sort of pot-scrubbing festival.
    Best of luck, and a Happy St Joe's day.

  2. I didn't know Canada had a patron saint, let alone St. Joseph. Does the U.S. have one? We need one! Canada seems so together to me, I'm not sure you really do. (But maybe that's because you do have St. Joe looking out for you.)

    When I lived in New Orleans, there was a strong Irish influence -- and part of the city is actually called The Irish Channel. One year, a woman I worked with invited us all to her house, which was in St. Bernard, which means it is probably now destroyed thanks to Katrina. Anyway, we were invited to join her in giving thanks at her St. Joseph's altar, which she had promised to make during the previous year if someone in her family (maybe her mother) recovered from an illness. The altar was incredible! She had cooked for weeks and placed all the food in a room she had turned into an amazing altar, filled with a St. Joseph's statue and candles, and beautiful cloths. It was so foreign to me, and pretty moving.

  3. Vince: A week long festival? I had no idea. But I do think it's a great occasion that the rest of the world has gleefully adopted, so I would never criticize Ireland for making the most of it! My post is meant, as I'm sure you gathered, as a tongue and cheek look at all sides of the issue. Canada is very shy about outward displays of anything religious or spiritual - and that is why St. Joe's day will probably remain a quiet affair.

    Barbara: Thanks so much for sharing your story of the St. Joseph's altar. Unlike our South American neighbours fervent displays are generally held in the privacy of homes and churches. It is interesting what you say about Canada having it together. I must confess that during the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, I started to wonder if we had come into our own as a nation, were peaking as it were, and would now start to relinquish our long role as underdog in the world. I actually had an uncomfortable moment when I wondered if that would be a good thing or not down the road, or would we get too big for our breeches (such a typically Canadian fear, now that I think about it!)
    For Catholic Americans, Our Lady of Guadalupe is a major patron saint, btw :)

  4. Yeap, a full week. And when I lived in Galway both at and after College, there they have some sort of Fest' between now and 31st of Oct'. It's enough make strong people quake.

    I think I may have mentioned I've friends in Red Deer, also Saltsprings island. And I've spoke Gaelic with people from St Johns. Hmmm pretty much across Canada I know good people. And SHY is not a word I or anyone could ever use.
    One of the people I know from Saltsprngs had a tattoo of small blue flowers where her belly button was the vase. Over the last few years I've gotten photos of these little Forget-me-nots growing into what I teased would happen, Hydrangeas.

  5. There's an award for you over at mine! Happy various Saints' Days!!

  6. Vince, I said Canadians are shy about religious displays not about anything else. Saltspring Island is a beautiful place and I had a good laugh over the little Forget-me-nots growing into hydrangeas!!!!

  7. Well, a belated Happy St Joseph's Day to you! He does sound like your kind of guy, when you describe him like that!

    Thanks for all your comments on my post - I really like the way you summarised your thoughts on Sense and Sensibility - I have finished the book but am still thinking it through.

    It soundls like you're ahead of us in the garden. We have pink buds showing on the magnolia, but no flowers yet, and the tulips are leaves only for now.

  8. You Canadians are difficult to get a good grip on. But, I have never met a Canadian I did not like. And they probably all thought I was a loud typical American, but they never let on because that would be rude. :)

    St. Joe is also the patron saint of fisherman. Every church along the river is a St. Joseph's, but it may not be the same one. The Portugese founders of the area picked the name.


I'd love to hear your thoughts. Thanks!