The tradition of St. Joseph Altar began in Sicily when months of dry weather left crops dying in the fields. The situation was critical and so the people prayed to St. Joseph, their patron, for relief from the famine.

Residents of Azalea Estates held a St. Joseph Altar at the Gonzales nursing home on Wednesday. The annual celebration is one that seniors look forward to every year.

The tradition of St. Joseph Altar began in Sicily when months of dry weather left crops dying in the fields. The situation was critical and so the people prayed to St. Joseph, their patron, for relief from the famine. Finally, rain poured down onto the crops, and the people rejoiced.

The first St. Joseph Altar was set up on the Island of Sicily to show their gratitude with a special assortment of foods they had harvested. After honoring the patron saint, the food was distributed to the poor. The tradition took hold, and the altars grew larger and more ornate.

Eventually the custom was introduced in America and spread to countries all over the world. Now the celebration is not confined to any nationality. Many families believe having a St. Joseph Altar can bring good fortune and tell stories about favors received that are attributed to the family's dedication to St. Joseph.

Most of the food presented on the altar is acquired through begging, which is a symbolic gesture that represents what the poor of Sicily were forced to do. When the feast is over, the remaining food and whatever money has been collected are given to the poor.

Whether a St. Joseph Altar is an elaborate display at an elegant church or a humble table in a modest home, it is a reflection of a deep devotion to St. Joseph, the patron of those in need. It is a custom that has enjoyed resurgence in recent years as young and old have begun to rediscover their heritage.

After many centuries, the St. Joseph Altar still serves as a reminder to those who have enjoyed good fortune that they must share it with those who have less.

Azalea Estates carries on that tradition every year with their own St. Joseph Altar. Nell Bercegeay has led the tradition for the past seven years. She said it's something they always look forward to.

"Every body enjoys it so much," said Bercegeay. "It's a little work, but it's worth it, seeing their faces. It's well worth it."

Bercegeay said the decorations on the altar have grown over the years, as they recently added a new statue of St. Joseph to the altar, as well as crosses from residents and her family.

"No matter what we do, it always comes out beautiful, and we love doing it," said Bercegeay. "We're blessed every time."

Fr. Jason Palermo of St. Joseph Catholic Church in French Settlement blessed the altar during the annual celebration.

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