Yesterday (March 19th) was St Joseph’s Day, and here in the Big Easy it’s a big deal. There are altars all over town, including churches, private homes, hotel lobbies, restaurants, bars and grocery stores. Yes, you read that right. A heavy influx of Sicilian immigrants to New Orleans brought the tradition of these altars here back in the late 1880s. St. Joseph was the guy who saved Sicily from a famine in the Middle Ages. He brought rain and a crop of lava beans.
This year hasn’t been the best, and I thought it was time to hang out at an altar, appreciate the cornucopia, and get myself a lucky fava bean to turn things around. I took a ride to the local grocery store, and was greeted with this sight:
Unique to New Orleans, these are members of a tribe of Mardi Gras Indians. In addition to Mardi Gras Day, they parade and preen on or around St. Joseph’s Day as well. There is a rich history that surrounds the Mardi Gras Indian culture. They create elaborate beaded costumes for an annual tribute. This tribute pays homage to the native Americans that helped their enslaved ancestors during a rebellion. Details are fuzzy, but so far, this is what I understand.
So, at the grocery store altar, they were joined by a priest, a rabbi, and a representative from an Italian food company. This is like fodder for the classic ” A priest, a rabbi and a (fill in the blank) walk into a bar…” You really can’t make this stuff up.
FYI: Both groups (Sicilians and African Americans) shared cultural traditions like St. Joseph’s Day and brass band music, and also racist violence.
Here’s part of the altar (I had to elbow my way in to get this shot):
Anyhoo, there was a celebration and a second line (a parade of sorts) and I bought groceries, but forgot to see about a lucky fava bean. So I took a ride to another altar.
I made a donation, and got a little goodie bag.
The fava bean is the thing at the bottom. Wish me luck!
Oh, and since this is a jewelry blog, here’s some Leda Jewel Co jewelry with inspired colors like the jaunt around town. Available in the shop: ledajewelco.com or click on a photo for more specific info.