|St. Joseph's Day altars began as a custom
brought to New Orleans by Sicilian immigrants. The tradition of building
to St. Joseph began as far back as the Middle Ages in gratitude to
St. Joseph for answering prayers for deliverance from famine. The families
of farmers and fisherman built altars in their homes to share their
good fortune with others in need. The tradition grew to a more public
event on St. Joseph's Feast Day on March 19. Today the individuals
who work on the altars are fulfilling their own promises to St. Joseph "to
share their blessings with those in need."
One tradition entails begging for the supplies to build the altar. The altar must not incur "any expense nor any personal financial gain." As an act of devotion to St. Joseph, supplicants would promise to build an altar should their sons return home from war safely.
Although there are perishable foods on the altars, a large portion of the breads, cookies and cakes are wrapped so that they may be given to charities after the altar is broken. The altar is broken after a ceremony which reenacts the Holy Family seeking shelter. The ceremony is called Tupa Tupa "which in Italian means Knock Knock." Children dressed in costume "knock at three doors asking for food and shelter. At the first two they are refused. At the third door, the host of the Altar greets them and welcomes them to refresh themselves."