Today we have a special guest post from Christina Indovina, an English and Culture instructor at the Loyola Intensive English Program (LIEP) at Loyola University New Orleans. This Intensive English Program resides in one of the most culturally and historically rich cities in the United States: New Orleans. 

Tuesday, March 19 was St. Joseph’s Day, a Catholic holiday that is very important to Italian Americans.  Like all things in New Orleans, this day was celebrated a little bit differently here!  In the 1880s, many people from Sicily, an island off the coast of Italy, left their homes and moved to the United States.  Many people from Sicily ended up in New Orleans.  St. Joseph is a very important saint in Sicily, so many people in New Orleans who have family from Sicily celebrate this holiday by building elaborate altars.  These families decorate their altars with candles, flowers, and most importantly, food.  Families who build altars open their homes up to the public so that people can come and see their altar.  Most families bake cookies to pass out to people who visit their altars.  The next day, the families take the altar apart and donate all of the food to different organizations that feed the poor.

On Monday, during our Culture class, students learned about St. Joseph’s Day, the altars, and cuccidati, a traditional Italian cookie that is passed out to people who visit altars.  Students worked together to bake cuccidatis.  Besides learning how to bake these special Italian cookies, students also learned the difference between teaspoons and tablespoons!

On Tuesday, several students went on a field trip to visit altars in a private home, a high school, and a church.  Students met many local New Orleanians who were happy to explain their altars and their traditions!  At every altar we visited, students got bags of cookies (including cuccidatis) from different families.

Students work together to follow instructions to bake cuccidatis …

one

Students prepare cuccidatis

Fresh cuccidatis

Fresh cuccidatis

They were so delicious that all of the workers in the office asked for seconds!

St. Joseph's altar in New Orleans residence

St. Joseph’s altar in New Orleans residence

LIEP students visiting an altar at a house in New Orleans.  This man has been building a St. Joseph’s altar for many years.  He patiently answered questions from LIEP students and explained the history and significance of many of the items on the altar.

New Orleans high school altar

New Orleans high school altar

LIEP students pose in front of the large St. Joseph’s Day altar that we visited at a local high school.

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