Traditions in New Orleans run deep. This past weekend we celebrated two of them St. Patrick's Day and St. Joseph's Day. New Orleans has long been Catholic and many of the cities most beloved traditions stem from that fact. The first settlers here, the French , were Catholics, then the Spanish were next, also Catholic. As a result everyone was baptized Catholic, including all the slaves brought here from Africa. Incredible that the people buying slaves and loading up ships would go through the exercise of bringing along a priest to make sure everyone was baptized. Ironic that there was so much interest in the afterlife when you were treated like chattel while on Earth.
St. Joseph provided relief from famine to people in Sicily and has been a day of celebration here in New Orleans since the Sicilians settled here in the mid 1800's. Most catholic church's in the area and many Italian or Sicilian business put up St. Joseph's altars. The altars are covered in traditional foods for the feast. Breads shaped in crucifixes and animal shapes, many special cookies and antipasta and cakes. You are invited to visit the altars around town and receive a small bag containing cookies and bread and a prayer card for St. Joseph. The Sicilian mama's have obviously spent days and days baking all the cookies to give out to the visitors who come. I've heard this day is celebrated more in New Orleans than in Sicily itself!
There are parades of course. The Irish and Italians parade together for this feast day. The other major event that happens on this day is the Mardi Gras Indians come out. They only come out twice a year, Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph's Day. There is music and dancing and the showing of the hand beaded suits that take all year to sew. Every year a new suit is made and only worn on these two days. This tradition of masking like Indians is a way to honor the Indians who harbored the slaves back in the slave owning days. There are many different Black Indians or Mardi Gras Indian tribes in New Orleans. They got the name Mardi gras Indians because of the day that they first come out and display their new suits is Mardi Gras Day.