“My great great grandfather from Sicily prayed to St. Joseph for a favor. I believe he had a near-fatal illness and needed healing. Anyways, he got better. So every year on St. Joseph’s day (March 19) he promised to have a big feast in St. Joseph’s honor and invite friends and family to celebrate. He also had a large St. Joseph statue in his home, which now belongs to my great uncle.
“More widespread, I believe St. Joseph’s day is celebrated in March because it is believed that praying to him brings rain and bountiful spring crops. Creating a table or altar of offerings is commonplace in Italian tradition, but my family goes above and beyond with the festivities to recognize this family legend.”
SR is a 20 year-old college student from Thousand Oaks, CA. Her family is Catholic and has Italian roots. She first heard the story of her great great grandfather’s miracle when she was very young.
“I believe it was first told to me when I was five or six years old, around the first time I met my extended family in New York,” she said.
The extent of her belief in the family miracle/legend has decreased alongside her religious belief.
“I considered it a miracle at the time, but given how little evidence I have for it actually happening and how I’ve sort of grown out of the Catholic faith, I’m definitely skeptical,” she explained. “However, that doesn’t change the fact that I cherish the tradition and plan to share the legend — as something that may or may not have been true — with my own kids one day.”
This miracle slowly devolves from a personal experience of myth (sacred truth) to a legend, reflecting the shifting truth value of the story. In this way, this testimonial is a great example of how the major distinguishing factor between a myth and a legend is its truth value to an individual. SR’s skepticism means that she still values the story as a legend and as a site of tradition, regardless of belief.
The story of a relative experiencing a miracle functions to strengthen a myth (sacred truth) by bringing it closer to an individual. Additionally, SR learned this story in a familial context, which functioned to link myth (religious belief) with family. Social networks have a strong influence on belief.
The myth also functions to naturalize an aspect of SR’s culture, the St. Joseph’s Day celebration, by endowing it with a sacred origin story of why they celebrate the feast day. These family myths/legends function to create a more personal experience of religious (mythic) belief.