Palm Sunday is a Christian moveable feast that falls on the Sunday before Easter. The feast commemorates Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, an event mentioned in each of the four canonical Gospels.It initiates Holy Week, the last week of Lent.
In many Christian denominations, such as the Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Reformed, Presbyterian, and Anglican Churches, worship services on Palm Sunday include a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem.The difficulty of procuring palms in unfavorable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, including box, olive, willow, and yew. The Sunday was often named after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.
It is customary in many churches for worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. In parts of the world where this has historically been impractical, substitute traditions have arisen.
In Hoegaarden, one of the last remaining Palm Sunday processions takes place every year. A fellowship of Twelve Apostles carries a wooden statue of Christ around the town, while children go door to door offering the palms (box) for coins.
In Bulgaria, Palm Sunday is known as Tsvetnitsa (tsvete, “flower”) or Vrabnitsa (varba, “willow”), or Flower’s Day. People with flower-related names (e.g., Lilia, Margarita, Nevena, Ralitsa, Rosa, Temenuzhka, Tsvetan, Tsvetana, Tsvetelin, Tsvetelina, Tsvetko, Violeta, Yavor, Zdravko, Zjumbjul, etc.) celebrate this day as their name day.
In the 15th through the 17th centuries in England, Palm Sunday was frequently marked by the burning of Jack-‘o’-Lent figures. This was a straw effigy which would be stoned and abused on Ash Wednesday, and kept in the parish for burning on Palm Sunday. The symbolism was believed to be a kind of revenge on Judas Iscariot, who had betrayed Christ. The effigy could also have represented the hated figure of Winter, whose destruction prepares the way for Spring.
In Orthodox Ethiopia, this holiday is referred to as Hosanna. Palm leaves are used to create rings and other ornaments.
In Finland, it is popular for children to dress up as Easter witches and go door to door in neighborhoods and trade decorated pussy willow branches for coins and candy. This is an old Karelian custom called virpominen.
It is customary for the children to chant, with some variation, “Virvon varvon tuoreeks, terveeks, tulevaks vuodeks, vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!”which translates as “I’m wishing you a fresh, healthy upcoming year, a branch for you, a prize for me!” The chant has been translated in Juha Vuorinen’s novel Totally Smashed! as “Willow switch, I’m the Easter witch! I wish you health and a love that’s rich! From me I bring some luck today, for this branch what will you pay?”
In most of the Catholic Churches in India the Palms are blessed by the Priest on Palm Sunday and then distributed among the people after the Holy Mass. There is a tradition of folding Palm Fronds into Palm Crosses which are kept at the altar till the next Ash Wednesday.
Flowers (in this instance marigolds) strewn about the sanctuary in an Oriental Orthodox church in Mumbai, India on Palm Sunday.
In the South Indian state of Kerala (and in Indian Orthodox, Church of South India (CSI), Syro-Malankara Catholic Church, and Syriac Orthodox Church (Jacobite) congregations elsewhere in India and throughout the West), flowers are strewn about the sanctuary on Palm Sunday during the reading of the Gospel, at the words uttered by the crowd welcoming Jesus, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who is come and is to come in the name of the Lord God”. These words are read to the congregation thrice. The congregation then repeats, “Hosanna!”, and the flowers are scattered. This is adapted from the older Hindu custom of scattering flowers on festive occasions, as well as the honour shown to Jesus upon his entry into Jerusalem.
Indian Orthodoxy traces its roots to the arrival in India of Saint Thomas the Apostle (traditionally dated to AD 52) and his evangelism among both the Brahmans of the Malabar Coast and the ancient Jewish community there. Its rites and ceremonies are both Hindu and Jewish, as well as Levantine Christian, in origin. In Syro-Malabar Catholic Church’s palm leaves are blessed during Palm Sunday ceremony and a Procession takes place holding the palms.
In Italy, palm leaves are used along with small olive branches, readily available in the Mediterranean climate. These are placed at house entrances (for instance, hanging above the door) to last until the following year’s Palm Sunday. For this reason, usually palm leaves are not used whole, due to their size; instead, leaf strips are braided into smaller shapes. Small olive branches are also often used to decorate traditional Easter cakes, along with other symbols of birth, like eggs.
In Latvia, Palm Sunday is called “Pussy Willow Sunday”, and pussy willows – symbolizing new life – are blessed and distributed to the faithful. Children are often awakened that morning with ritualistic swats of a willow branch.
When Christianity came to Lithuania, the plants which sprouted earliest were honored during spring feasts. The name “Palm Sunday” is a misnomer; the “verba” or “dwarfed spuce” is used instead. According to tradition, on the Saturday before Palm Sunday the Lithuanians take special care in choosing and cutting well-formed branches, which the women decorate with flowers. The flowers are meticulously tied onto the branches, making the “Verba”. During the holiday, it is customary to, after awakening and after mass, lightly whip relatives and friends with the verba, wishing them good fortune and health.
The Levant Edit
In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria, Palm Sunday (Shaa’nineh in Arabic) Is perhaps the best-attended service in the Christian Calendar, among the Orthodox, Catholic (Latin Church and Eastern Catholic Churches), and Anglican Churches, perhaps because it is notably a family occasion. On this day, children attend church with branches from olive and palm trees. Also, there will be carefully woven crosses and other symbols made from palm fronds and roses and a procession at the beginning of the service, during which at some point, the priest will take an olive branch and splash holy water on the faithful.
All the parishes of Malta and Gozo on Palm Sunday (Maltese: Ħadd il-Palm) bless the palm leaves and the olive leaves. Those parishes that have the statues of Good Friday bless the olive tree they put on the statues of “Jesus prays in the Olive Garden” (Ġesù fl-Ort) and the “Betrayal of Judas” (il-Bewsa ta’ Ġuda). Also, many people take a small olive branch to their homes because it is a sacramental.
In the Saxon regions of the Netherlands, crosses are decorated with candy and bread, made in the form of a rooster. In the Diocese of Groningen-Leeuwarden, a great procession with oil lamps is held the night before Palm Sunday in honour of the Sorrowful Mother of Warfhuizen.
See also: Holy Week in the Philippines
A priest blesses palm fronds in Santiago Apostol Church in Plaridel, Bulacan, Philippines.
In the Philippines, communities re-enact Jesus’ triumphal entry with a procession. A statue of Christ riding a donkey (the Humenta), or the officiating priest on horseback, is brought to the local church by congregants, who wave palaspás (ornately woven palm branches). At houses and chapels, white-clad children scatter flowers as they sing the antiphon Hosanna Filio David in the vernacular and to traditional tunes. Tapis (heirloom “aprons” made for this ritual) or large cloths are spread along the processional route, to be tread upon by the Humenta or the priest.
Once blessed, the palaspás are brought home and placed on altars, doorways, and windows. The Church teaches that this is meant to welcome Christ, but many Filipinos believe blessed palaspás to be apotropaic, deterring evil spirits, lightning, and fires. Another folk custom is to feed pieces of blessed palaspás to roosters used in sabong (cockfighting); this was strongly discouraged by the Archbishop of Manila, Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle. In other provinces, the flowers strewn by the angels during the procession are added to the rice seeds being planted, in the belief that these will ensure a bountiful harvest.
A palm in Łyse, Poland.
Many Polish towns and villages (the best known are Lipnica Murowana in Lesser Poland and Łyse) organize artificial palm competitions. The biggest of those reach above 30 meters in length; for example, the highest palm in 2008 was 33.39 meters.
Romania and Moldova Edit
In Romania and Moldova, Palm Sunday is known as Duminica Floriilor or simply Florii, translating Flowers’ Sunday.
See also: Holy Week in Spain
In Spain, there is a tradition at the Palmeral of Elche (Europe’s largest Palm Grove) where local people cover palm leaves from the sun to allow them to whiten, and then they tie and braid them in to intricate shapes.
A Spanish rhyming proverb states: Domingo de Ramos, quien no estrena algo, se le caen las manos (“On Palm Sunday, the hands drop off of those who fail to wear something new”). On Palm Sunday, it is customary to don new clothing or shoes.
United States Edit
In Spanish, it is sometimes called Pascua florida, and it was from this day in 1512 that the state of Florida received its name.
In Welsh Palm Sunday in called ‘Sul y Blodau’ (‘Flowering Sunday’) and it is traditional to decorate graves with flowers on that day, especially in the industrial towns and villages of south Wales.