Written by Anne Newman 11th April 2019
Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and begins the Holy Week and commemorates the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem.
According to the Gospels, Jesus Christ rode a donkey into Jerusalem and the day is called 'PalmSunday' because the people of Jerusalem threw palm leaves to the floor as a greeting when he arrived.
In ancient times, palm branches symbolized goodness and victory. They were often depicted on coins and important buildings. Solomon had palm branches carved into the walls and doors of the temple. Back in 5BC-AD33, palm leaves and branches were a sign of homage and thrown before people of great respect.
The symbolism of the donkey may refer to the Eastern tradition that it is an animal of peace, unlike the horse which is the animal of war.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey as a symbol of peace – whereas if he had strode in on a horse, often used in battle, he could have been seen as a warmonger.
It is customary in many churches for worshippers to receive fresh palm leaves on Palm Sunday. The extra blessed palms are then saved in the church to be burned on ShroveTuesday, the following year, to make the ashes used in Ash Wednesday service.
In Ireland yew leaves are blessed instead of palm leaves and everyone takes home some of the blessed yew.
One year a friend, who had lived in America, gave me a Palm Sunday Cross made of woven palm leaves. I had never seen them before.
The palm cross is a symbol of Christ's death on the cross, but serves another purpose. It is said to have a palm leaf or palm cross in the house will help protect against house fires.
Here is a video on how to make one:
I found some other Palm Sunday Customs from around the world:
In the 15th to 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.
Jack o' Lent is mentioned in Shakespeare's Merry Wives of Windsor.
ROBIN - My master, Sir John, is come in at your back-door, Mistress Ford, and requests your company.
MISTRESS PAGE - You little Jack-a-Lent, have you been true to us?
ROBIN - Ay, I'll be sworn. My master knows not of your being here and hath threatened to put me into everlasting liberty if I tell you of it; for he swears he'll turn me away.
MISTRESS PAGE -Thou'rt a good boy: this secrecy of thine shall be a tailor to thee and shall make thee a new doublet and hose. I'll go hide me.
MISTRESS FORD - Do so. Go tell thy master I am alone.
In Latvia, Palm Sundayis 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!
In Finland it is popular for children to dress up as Easter witches and go door to door in neighbourhoods and trade decorated pussywillow branches for coins and candy.
This is an old Kareliancustom called virpominen. It is customary for the children to chant,with some variation,
"Virvon varvon tuoreeks, terveeks, tulevaksvuodeks, vitsa sulle, palkka mulle!"
which translates as
"I'm wishing you a fresh, healthy up coming year, a branch for you, a prize for me!"
The chant has been translated in JuhaVuorinen'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."
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Anne is sharing a series of events throughout the year - you can find them listed by clicking to the link Other Notable Dates and Festivals.