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How Benedict XVI celebrated his saint’s day as a little boy

Papież Benedykt XVI

Stefano Spaziani / Polaris / East News

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 11/02/23

Thinking about this 95-year-old man reflecting with gratitude on his mother’s efforts when he was a little boy brought tears to my eyes.

Many Catholics grow up celebrating their patron saint’s feast day in some special way. 

In some regions of the world, your saint’s day is like another birthday. Hispanic cultures have a special song to be sung on saint’s days, and often families will wake the special person with a morning serenade. (Although it is referred to as a “birthday song,” the lyrics distinctly say “saint’s day.”)

Many other cultures have their own special traditions, and Catholics honor their saint’s feast days all over the world. 

Have you ever wondered how families that raise great and holy people celebrate their children’s saint’s days? 

I was delighted to recently come across a short passage in Pope Benedict XVI’s last book, What is Christianity? The Last Writings, in which he describes how his parents would celebrate his saint’s day when he was a little boy, then called Joseph Ratzinger. 

The Ratzinger family always celebrated the feast of St. Joseph on March 19, and in his final years, Pope Benedict took time to reflect on these happy memories from his childhood. 

“Saint Joseph’s Day was my father’s patronal feast and mine, and, within the practical limitations, it was celebrated properly,” he wrote.

I found the simplicity and sweetness with which the feast day was celebrated in the Ratzinger home to be incredibly moving. Thinking about this 95-year-old man reflecting with gratitude on his mother’s efforts to make his saint’s day special when he was a little boy brought tears to my eyes. 

Here are the key elements of how St. Joseph’s Day was celebrated in the Ratzinger home.

A special tablecloth

“There was a tablecloth, specifically for the feast day, which made the breakfast festive,” he wrote. 

Festive foods

“We would drink fresh-ground coffee, which my father liked very much, although usually we could not afford it…  And to top it off, Mother would bake a cake with icing, which completely expressed the extraordinary character of the feast.” 


“On the table there was always a primrose as a sign of spring, which Saint Joseph brings with him.”

A small gift for both father and son

“Most times my mother, with her savings, somehow managed to buy an important book (for example Der Kleine Herder [a small reference book]).”

All together, these simple elements made the day festive for little Joseph Ratzinger. “In this way, the special quality of the Feast of Saint Joseph was tangible from early morning on,” he wrote.

There is so much here for parents to ponder. Who knows how the little traditions in our family homes may impact our children? When we celebrate our children’s saint’s days, we can recall the simple yet loving and warm example of his mother, who in her humble home raised her little boy to be one of the great leaders of our times. 

Devotions and FeastsFamilyLiturgical YearPope Benedict XVISaint Joseph
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