Italian cookies, including the pine cone-shaped pignolatti or haystacks, are among the items that will be on a small St. Joseph’s Altar displayed during the Columbus Day Festa in Baton Rouge.

The annual event hosted by the Greater Baton Rouge American Italian Association will be from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday at the Belle of Baton Rouge Casino & Hotel Atrium. Admission is free and open to the public.

In addition to the St. Joseph’s Altar, food will take center stage during some of the day’s other activities. There will be a “grape stomp,” a celebrity pizza eating contest, a vino stroll and the sale of Italian food, desserts and drinks.

However, it is the St. Joseph’s Altar that has Carolyn Musso’s attention. The Baton Rouge resident is in charge of setting up the small altar for visitors to view from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. during the Columbus Day Festa.

Sicilian immigrants introduced south Louisiana to the custom of preparing an altar for St. Joseph as a visible means of honoring him when they received favors for which they’d asked his help and intercession. The altars are traditionally prepared for St. Joseph’s Day on March 19.

According to legend, the custom began in Sicily when people turned to St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus and patron saint of Sicily, during a drought and famine. After crop-saving rains came, they showed their gratitude by making offerings of food and sharing it with the poor.

Musso said the Columbus Day Festa altar won’t include food for sharing with the public, but “will show the history of the Sicilians and how important the altar was to them. It was “the heart of the Sicilians when they came over” to Louisiana.

Along with cookies, Musso plans to have breads, fresh fruit and vegetables, meatless spaghetti gravy, cakes and fava beans on the altar.

“The table will be skirted with an antique altar skirt that belonged to my husband’s aunt Lena Musso Puccetti,” a native of Sicily who later lived in New Orleans. “I was lucky to inherit that.”

Musso said she hopes the St. Joseph’s Altar tradition continues to be handed down to children and grandchildren. “I don’t want them to forget their traditions and history.”

For complete information about the festa, see the story in The Advocate’s Red magazine Friday or go to gbraia.org.

Musso shared an Italian fig cookies recipe that has been passed down through the years by members of the Grandsons of Italy.