Palm Sunday

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Palm Sunday,

in the Christian calendar, the Sunday before EasterEaster
[A.S. Eastre, name of a spring goddess], chief Christian feast, commemorating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion. In the West, Easter is celebrated on the Sunday following the full moon next after the vernal equinox (see calendar); thus, it falls
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, sixth and last Sunday in LentLent
[Old Eng. lencten,=spring], Latin Quadragesima (meaning 40; thus the 40 days of Lent). In Christianity, Lent is a time of penance, prayer, preparation for or recollection of baptism, and preparation for the celebration of Easter.
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, and the first day of Holy WeekHoly Week,
week before Easter. Its chief days are named Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. In Christian life it is a week of devout observance, commemorating the Passion and Jesus' death on the cross. The liturgies have special features and services, e.
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. It recalls the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem riding upon an ass, when his followers shouted "Hosanna" and scattered palms in his path. In the Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches, ceremonies of the day are the blessing and distribution of crosses made from palm leaves and the recitation of one of the three synoptic accounts of the Passion. Many wear crosses made of the palm.
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Palm Sunday

Dimanche des Rameaux (Branch Sunday), Domingo de las
Palmas (Sunday of the Palms), Domingo de Ramos
(Branch Sunday), Fig Sunday, Flowering Sunday,
Hosanna Sunday, Pascua Florida (Flowery Easter),
Pasques Fleuris (Flowery Easter), Passion Sunday,
Willow Sunday, Willowswitch Sunday

Palm Sunday falls on the Sunday before Easter, which is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent. It constitutes the first day of Holy Week, a week of observances commemorating the last events in Jesus' life. On Palm Sunday Christians remember Jesus' triumphal arrival in Jerusalem. According to the Bible crowds gathered to welcome him, hailing him as a prophet, that is, someone who understands and speaks for God. As he rode by, mounted on a donkey, they greeted him with cries of "Hosanna," a Hebrew phrase meaning "Save, we pray" or "Save now." Many reverenced him by taking off their own cloaks and throwing them in his path or by cutting green branches for him to ride on (Matthew 21, Mark 11, Luke 19). In the account of this event given in the Gospel according to John, people waved palm branches as Jesus rode by (John 12:12-15). The ancient Hebrews considered the palm a beautiful and noble tree, and associated it with joy, fertility, and God's blessing. The ancient Romans viewed the palm branch as a symbol of victory. The early Christians borrowed this symbolism from the Romans. Nevertheless, they put their own stamp on it, using the palm branch not only as an emblem of victory but also of martyrdom.

Since ancient times Palm Sunday church services have included Bible readings recounting the Passion story. This story tells what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. Less than one week after a crowd cheered his arrival, a disciple betrayed him, the Roman governor Pontius Pilate sentenced him to death, and a crowd witnessed his crucifixion (see also Judas; for more on crucifixion, see Cross).

The palm procession, a reenactment of the joyous welcome given to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, constitutes one of the day's oldest customs. It dates back to ancient times. The palm branch came to represent both the joy and triumph of this occasion and thus became a symbol of the holiday. In many churches palm branches or crosses woven from palm fronds are blessed and distributed to worshipers. Roman Catholic and Episcopal churches store the remainder of the blessed palms until Ash Wednesday of the following year, when they are burned to make the ashes that the clergy daub onto the foreheads of those who attend Ash Wednesday services. The liturgical color for Palm Sunday is red, signifying martyrdom, love, and suffering.


The oldest known account of a Palm Sunday service dates back to about 380 A.D. It reveals the palm procession to be the oldest custom associated with the day. According to Egeria, a late fourth-century pilgrim to the Holy Land, Jerusalem Christians celebrated Palm Sunday with a procession that led from the Mount of Olives into the city. They gathered on the Mount of Olives around five in the afternoon to listen to a reading from one of the Gospel accounts of Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Then the bishop, representing Jesus, led them down the hill into the city. Egeria notes that many in the crowd carried palm or olive branches.

Though Egeria's account provides us with the earliest description of a Palm Sunday service, some scholars suspect that earlier celebrations took place in the Christian communities of Alexandria, Egypt, and Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul), Turkey. They suspect that when Christians from these cities made pilgrimages to the Holy Land, they introduced these observances to the Jerusalem community, which later adopted them.

The most striking element of these early observances was the palm procession. The Palm Sunday procession spread to western Europe in the early Middle Ages. The procession, as well as the ceremonial blessing of palm branches at the altar appeared in Spain some time between the fifth and seventh centuries. Similar rites were probably adopted in Rome sometime around the eighth century.

As the palm procession spread throughout Europe people altered it to suit the local landscape. The processions usually began from some holy place, such as a church or shrine just outside the town, and led to the city's cathedral or principal church. In some places, especially France and England, the clergy carried the Blessed Sacrament, or Eucharist, at the head of the procession. In other places people marched behind a cross, the Bible, or saints'relics. In still other areas a Palmesel or Palmchristus led the way. These wooden statues depicting Jesus mounted on a donkey can be traced back to the tenth century and were especially popular in Germany. Bystanders watching these processions often took active roles as well, strewing branches, clothes, carpets, or flowers in the path of the parade. In Biberbach, Germany, before the Protestant Reformation, choir members echoed the actions of Jesus' first followers, who threw their cloaks to the ground for him to walk on, by removing their surplices and tossing them in the path of the Palmesel.

Orthodox Christians also celebrate Palm Sunday with processions. Orthodoxy is one of the three main branches of the Christian faith. It developed in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and north Africa. Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism split apart from each other about 1,000 years ago, thus the two groups developed different religious customs. In Constantinople, the capital of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire, palm processions can be traced back to the ninth or tenth centuries. A document from the fourteenth century reveals that the Byzantine emperor himself marched in this procession, accompanied by the Orthodox patriarch, or bishop, of Constantinople, and numerous other church and state officials. By the evening of the previous day, Lazarus Saturday, people had strewn the parade route with palm, myrtle, and laurel branches, as well as flowers. The columns that lined the route were similarly decorated.

In many western European countries these elaborate Palm Sunday processions shrank and declined after the Reformation, the sixteenthcentury religious reform movement that gave birth to Protestant Christianity. In many regions they became short parades around the churchyard or even shorter processions within the church itself. As many cemeteries were housed in the churchyard in past eras, these processions gave the congregation a special opportunity to pray beside the graves of the departed. Today, even though cemeteries are often located far from home and church, the custom of visiting family graves on Palm Sunday persists in England, France, Belgium, and the United States.

In addition to the palm procession, the blessing of the palms constitutes another distinctive feature of Palm Sunday religious services. This ceremony can be traced back as far as the sixth century. By the late Middle Ages it had become a long and detailed ritual. In that era the blessed palms not only represented Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, but also came to be seen as objects that offered protection against the devil. In England palm crosses were once sold as cures for diseases.

Modern Revisions

In the 1950s Roman Catholic officials shortened and changed the palm blessing ceremony in order to refocus worshipers' attention on the event the holiday commemorates: Jesus'entry into Jerusalem and the beginning of Holy Week. In the 1960s the reforms brought about by Vatican II, a series of important meetings of Roman Catholic leaders, led Church authorities to officially change the name of the sixth Sunday in Lent from Palm Sunday to Passion Sunday. This decision reflects the desire of Church officials to place greater emphasis on the story of the last days in Jesus' life than on the blessing of the palms. Indeed, this story, referred to as the Passion story, is read or sung at Palm Sunday services in Roman Catholic churches, as well as those Protestant churches that have retained elements of Roman Catholic tradition in their worship services. If the Passion story is to be sung, an old liturgical tradition recommends that the part of the narrator be assigned to someone with a tenor voice, the part of Jesus to a bass voice, and the other parts to alto voices.

Other Names for Palm Sunday

One old folk name for the day, Hosanna Sunday, comes from the cry of the people as they welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem. Most other folk names, however, refer to plants used to celebrate the festival. Since palm trees don't grow in cold, northern climates, many northern Europeans had to adapt their Palm Sunday customs to suit the climate and vegetation of their land. The Italians substituted olive branches for palm branches, and the Irish yews. In Russia, Germany, Poland, Lithuania, and England worshipers made do with willow branches. Indeed, in Russia the use of willow branches inspired people to call the festival "Willow Sunday." The Spanish refer to the day as Domingo de Ramos, or "Branch Sunday," in reference to the use of green branches as a religious symbol. The French also call the day Branch Sunday, or Di- manche des Rameaux in French. "Flowery Easter" serves as both an old Spanish and a French name for the holiday. This translates to Pascua Florida in Spanish and Pasques Fleuris in French. The name recalls the old custom of blessing flowers as well as palm branches, in addition to the custom of entwining flowers amid the fronds of the blessed palm branches.

Pascua Florida, the old Spanish name for the holiday, engraved itself onto the map of the United States when Spanish explorer Ponce de León caught sight of the North American continent on March 20, 1513. It was Palm Sunday, so he named the lush, green land "Florida" in honor of the day and in recognition of the land's fertility.

Palm Sunday in Jerusalem

Christians in Jerusalem still observe Palm Sunday with a procession from the Mount of Olives to Jerusalem, retracing the route by which Jesus was supposed to have entered the city. Researchers believe that Jesus entered the city by the old Zusan Gate, which the Romans demolished in 70 A.D. Another gate, called the Golden Gate, replaced it. In the ninth century, however, the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem walled up the Golden Gate in an effort to safeguard the city against invaders. In spite of the difficulties in retracing Jesus' original route, thousands of pilgrims from around the world come to Jerusalem each year to participate in this endeavor. In recent years Christian Palestinian children have had the honor of leading the worshipers towards Jerusalem. The procession descends from the Mount of Olives, passes the Garden of Gethsemane, and crosses the Kidron Valley before entering the walled Old City. Today's worshipers still carry palm branches in imitation of those Jerusalemites who originally welcomed Jesus into the city 2,000 years ago.

Palm Sunday in Spain

In many Spanish towns and villages, people observe the day with special religious processions. Frequently children carrying palm branches lead these parades. Some processions feature large floats called pasos, which display scenes from the last days of Jesus'life depicted with lifesized wooden statues. Teams of men, and occasionally women, carry these floats, which can weigh more than two tons (see also Spain, Easter and Holy Week in).

Palm Sunday in Austria, Germany, and the former

In Austria palm branches are blessed at church services and distributed to parishioners. One old custom encouraged Austrian farmers to transfer this blessing to their homesteads by singing and praying as they walked through their buildings and fields, leaving a sprig of blessed palm in each place. According to Austrian folklore the sprigs afford protection against disease and ill weather. Another old custom taught children to festoon palm branches with pretzels and to carry them through the streets in honor of the day.

In Germany's Black Forest region people decorated poles with pussy willows, leaves, streamers, hearts, and crosses, and carried them into church to be blessed. Poles studded with glittering glass beads were also brought in for a blessing. Later, farmers installed these poles in their fields as a means of protecting and blessing their crops. In some areas of Germany the Palmesel can still be found leading Palm Sunday processions to church. Blessed willow wands or palm branches are brought home and used for decorations. German folklore teaches that the branches may transfer the blessing to the home. In some areas twigs from these branches were at one time planted in gardens in the hopes of protecting them from lightning (see also Germany, Easter and Holy Week in).

In the former Yugoslavia willow branches are blessed in church services. Old folk customs encouraged parishioners to bring the blessed willows home with them and parade them through their fields as a means of imparting a blessing on them. Afterwards the branches might be displayed above doors and on barns. Another set of old folk traditions advised young women to toss freshly gathered blossoms into their bath water. This Palm Sunday flower bath was supposed to help them maintain their beauty throughout the year. In addition, girls were taught to sow flax and flower seeds on this day, while boys cut green branches to make garlands and crowned their girlfriends with willow wreaths.

Palm Sunday in Mexico

Mexicans call Palm Sunday Domingo de las Palmas, or "Sunday of the Palms." Many gather together large bunches of palms, flowers, and bay branches to bring with them to church. Afterwards they bring these bouquets home with them. Mexican folklore teaches that blessed Palm Sunday flowers can ward off diseases (see also Mexico, Easter and Holy Week in).

Palm Sunday in Greece

In northern Greece Orthodox priests bless laurel and myrtle branches during the Palm Sunday religious services. Laurel, or bay, branches are an old Greek emblem of triumph. In addition, parishioners fashion palm fronds into baskets, crosses, stars, and half-moon shapes. The priest also blesses these and gives one to everyone attending the service. People take them home and place them next to their icons, religious images used in prayer and worship. Religious processions may also take place inside churches, reminding worshipers of the triumphal welcome given to Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday. The strict Lenten fast practiced by Orthodox Christians may be slightly relaxed in honor of the day to include fish (see also Greece, Easter and Holy Week in).

Palm Sunday in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands children celebrate by making a Palm Sunday ornament called a Palmpaas, or "Easter Palm." The palmpaas usually consists of a rod or staff attached to a hoop from which dangle all sorts of Easter emblems and good things to eat, including eggshells, paper flags, chocolate eggs, raisins, figs, oranges, and cakes (see also Easter Eggs). Children go door to door displaying their homemade palmpaas and begging for eggs.

Palm Sunday in England and Wales

In England, as in many other northern European countries, palm processions declined in popularity after the Reformation. Nevertheless, the old association between Palm Sunday and greenery remained, giving rise to a new tradition whereby boys and men collected willow, box, or hazel branches in the days preceding Palm Sunday. These branches were thought to bring good luck and were used as home decorations. In past times some people called Palm Sunday "Fig Sunday" in reference to the custom of eating figs or fig pudding on that day. In some areas special fig fairs were held as a means of supplying consumers with the fruit. Some writers assert that the day acquired that name from an association with a story told by Jesus in the Bible known as the Parable of the Barren Fig (Matthew 21:18-22, Mark 11:12-14). The Welsh call Palm Sunday "Flowering Sunday," perhaps because of the custom of strewing family gravesites with flowers and greenery on that day (see also England, Easter and Holy Week in).

Palm Sunday in Poland, Russia, the Ukraine, and Finland

An informal Polish name for Palm Sunday is "Flower Sunday." Poles bring home pussy willow wands that have been blessed by the priest. They are put in vases of water to encourage Easter blooms. Old folk customs instructed the man and woman of the house to switch one another with these wands. The beating of a man was said to help his crops to grow, the beating of a woman was said to make her fertile. Russians and Ukrainians held similar beliefs about Palm Sunday willow wands (see also Poland, Easter and Holy Week in; Russia, Easter and Holy Week in; Ukraine, Easter and Holy Week in).

The Finns sometimes call the day "Willowswitch Sunday" in reference to an old custom whereby children go door to door with willow switches with which they swat the woman of the house. Farm women in turn hit their sheep and cows with a willow switch. According to Finnish folk beliefs, this switching was supposed to impart health. Farm families saved the switches to use again when it was time to take the animals into open pasture (see also Finland, Easter and Holy Week in).

Further Reading

Bradshaw, Paul F. The Search for the Origins of Christian Worship. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992. Hogan, Julie. A Treasury of Easter Celebrations. Nashville, TN: Ideals Publications, 1999. Hole, Christina. British Folk Customs. London, England: Hutchinson and Company, 1976. Lord, Priscilla Sawyer, and Daniel J. Foley. Easter Garland. 1963. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1999. ---. Easter the World Over. Philadelphia, PA: Chilton Book Company, 1971. Mershman, Francis. "Palm Sunday." In Charles G. Herbermann et al., eds. The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Appleton, 1913. Available online at: Metford, J. C. J. Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1983. Monti, James. The Week of Salvation. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1993. O'Shea, W. J. "Palm Sunday." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 10. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. "Palm." In Leland Ryken, James C. Wilhoit, and Tremper Longman III, eds. Dictionary of Biblical Imagery. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. "Palm Sunday." In E. A. Livingstone, ed. The Oxford Dictionary of the Chris- tian Church. Third edition. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1997. Pierce, Joanne M. "Holy Week and Easter in the Middle Ages." In Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman, eds. Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times. Two Liturgical Traditions series, volume 5. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1999. Rouvelas, Marilyn. A Guide to Greek Traditions and Customs in America. Bethesda, MD: Nea Attiki Press, 1993. Spicer, Dorothy. Book of Festivals. 1937. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1990. Urlin, Ethel. Festivals, Holy Days, and Saints' Days. 1915. Reprint. Detroit, MI: Omnigraphics, 1992. Weiser, Francis X. The Easter Book. Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002

Palm Sunday (Passion Sunday)

Type of Holiday: Religious (Christian)
Date of Observation: Between March 15 and April 18 in the West; between March 28 and May 1 in the East; the Sunday preceding Easter
Where Celebrated: British Isles, Europe, United States, Mexico, Latin America, Scandinavia, and by Christians all over the world
Symbols and Customs: Palm Branches
Colors: Purple or violet is used throughout Holy Week to symbolize the passion or suffering of Christ.
Related Holidays: Ash Wednesday, Easter, Good Friday, Lent, Maundy Thursday


Palm Sunday is a Chistian holiday that celebrates Jesus' return to Jerusalem. The word Christian refers to a follower of Christ, a title derived from the Greek word Palm Sunday

meaning Messiah or Anointed One. The Christ of Christianity is Jesus of Nazareth, a man born between 7 and 4 B . C . E . in the region of Palestine. According to Christian teaching, Jesus was killed by Roman authorities using a form of execution called crucifixion (a term meaning he was nailed to a cross and hung from it until he died) in about the year 30 C . E . After his death, he rose back to life. His death and resurrection provide a way by which people can be reconciled with God. In remembrance of Jesus' death and resurrection, the cross serves as a fundamental symbol in Christianity.

With nearly two billion believers in countries around the globe, Christianity is the largest of the world's religions. There is no one central authority for all of Christianity. The pope (the bishop of Rome) is the authority for the Roman Catholic Church, but other sects look to other authorities. Orthodox communities look to patriarchs and emphasize doctrinal agreement and traditional practice. Protestant communities focus on individual conscience. The Roman Catholic and Protestant churches are often referred to as the Western Church, while the Orthodox churches may also be called the Eastern Church. All three main branches of Christianity acknowledge the authority of Christian scriptures, a compilation of writings assembled into a document called the Bible. Methods of biblical interpretation vary among the different Christian sects.

Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphant return of Jesus Christ to Jerusalem, where he received a hero's welcome from the people who had heard about the miracles he'd performed and regarded him as the leader who would deliver them from the domination of the Roman Empire. He rode into the city on an ass, and the people greeted him by waving PALM BRANCHES and strewing them in his path, shouting, "Hosanna: Blessed is the King of Israel that cometh in the name of the Lord" (John 12: 12, 13).

Although Jesus entered Jerusalem in triumph, later events proved that his popularity was largely superficial. The city was already filled with holiday pilgrims because it was the Jewish feast of PASSOVER, and it is likely that Jesus deliberately chose this time so that his final showdown with the Jewish authorities would take place in front of as many people as possible. The happy crowd of pilgrims, many of whom probably knew Jesus as a popular rabbi, made a special event of his arrival, cheering and throwing down palm branches for him to ride over.

As a Christian observance, Palm Sunday dates back to the tenth century. But the persistence of ancient folk beliefs about the power of palm branches would seem to indicate a link with much earlier celebrations. At one time it was customary to use a wooden ass mounted on wheels with a human figure riding on it to represent Jesus. As soon as the ass passed over the willow or palm branches that had been strewn on the ground, people would rush to gather them up because they were regarded as protection against storms and lightning. Crosses made of woven palm were a popular charm against disease.

Probably the greatest present-day observance of Palm Sunday takes place in Rome, where the Pope, carried in St. Peter's Chair on the shoulders of eight men, comes out of St. Peter's Basilica to bless the palms. After the service, golden palm branches are distributed among the clergy and olive branches, a symbol of spiritual anointing, are given to the congregation. Then the thousands of worshippers who have gathered in St. Peter's Square march through the basilica and around the portico, emerging from one door and reentering through another to symbolize the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Some of the palm branches are saved and later burned to make ashes for the following year's ASH WEDNESDAY.


Palm Branches

The palm branch is a symbol of victory and a sign of reverence. In Europe, where palm branches are hard to find, branches of box, yew, or willow are often carried in procession on Palm Sunday to commemorate Jesus' triumphant entry into Jerusalem.

After the Reformation in the sixteenth century, Henry VII declared that carrying palms on Palm Sunday was a custom that should be maintained. By the nineteenth century in many parts of England, it was customary for young people to go "a-palming" on the Saturday before Palm Sunday-in other words, to go into the woods and gather willow twigs (in the absence of palms) and return with armloads of cuttings as well as sprigs of willow in their hats or buttonholes. Like the palm branches, the willow cuttings were collected and burned, and the ashes were set aside for the following ASH WEDNESDAY.

The belief that palm branches offered protection from disease and natural disasters can still be seen in the customs of some European countries. In Austria and the Bavarian region of Germany, for example, farmers make Palmbuschen by attaching holly leaves, willow boughs, and cedar twigs to the top of long poles. After these have been blessed in the local church on Palm Sunday, farmers set them up in their fields or barns to ward off illness and to protect their crops from hail and drought.

In the Netherlands, the Palmpaas is a stick to which a hoop has been attached. The hoop is covered with boxwood and decorated with paper flags, eggshells, sugar rings, oranges, figs, raisins, and chocolate eggs. Sometimes there is a figure of a swan or a cock on the top, made from baked dough. It is generally believed that the Palmpaas was originally a fertility symbol representing the arrival of spring and the resurgence of life after the long winter. Palm Sunday

On Palm Sunday in Italy, the piazzas in front of most small churches are filled with people dressed up in new spring clothes and with vendors selling olive and palm branches. The olive branches may be gilded or painted silver, and the palms are often braided into crosses and decorated with roses, lilies, or other flowers. After the palms have been blessed in the church, they are often exchanged as peace offerings or as a sign of reconciliation between those who have quarreled.

In Czechoslovakia, the priests bless pussy willows. Farmers wave the willow branches over their fields of grain to protect them from hail or violent rainstorms. Sometimes pussy willow branches are placed on the roof to protect the house from fire.


Bellenir, Karen. Religious Holidays and Calendars. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2004. Chambers, Robert. The Book of Days. 2 vols. 1862-64. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Dobler, Lavinia G. Customs and Holidays Around the World. New York: Fleet Pub. Corp., 1962. Gulevich, Tanya. Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2002. Harper, Howard V. Days and Customs of All Faiths. 1957. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1990. Henderson, Helene, ed. Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary. 3rd ed. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 2005. Ickis, Marguerite. The Book of Festivals and Holidays the World Over. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. Metford, J.C.J. The Christian Year. New York: Crossroad, 1991. Monks, James L. Great Catholic Festivals. New York: Henry Schuman, 1951. Pike, Royston. Round the Year with the World's Religions. 1950. Reprint. Detroit: Omnigraphics, 1992. Santino, Jack. All Around the Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.


Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America

New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia
Holiday Symbols and Customs, 4th ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2009

Palm Sunday

Between March 15 and April 18 in the West and between March 28 and May 1 in the East; the Sunday before Easter
During the Jewish Passover celebration, Jesus rode into Jerusalem and was given a hero's welcome by the people, who had heard of his miracles and regarded him as the leader who would deliver them from the domination of the Roman Empire. They carried palm branches, a traditional symbol of victory, and spread them in the streets before him, shouting "Hosanna, glory to God" (John 12:12,13). Palms are still used in church services on this day, which is the beginning of Holy Week, and Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem is often reenacted with a procession—the most impressive being the one in Rome, where the pope, carried in St. Peter's Chair, blesses the palms.
At the beginning or end of the service, the palms are distributed to the congregation. In some countries, where palms are not available, branches of other trees—particularly pussy willow, olive, box, yew, and spruce—are used. They are later hung up in houses for good luck, buried to preserve crops, or used to decorate graves. Other names for this day include Passion Sunday, Fig Sunday, Willow Sunday, Branch Sunday, Blossom Sunday, and, in France, Rameaux .
AmerBkDays-2000, p. 225
BkDays-1864, vol. I, p. 395
BkFest-1937, pp. 183, 300, 337
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 104
DictFolkMyth-1984, pp. 181, 841, 954, 1171
EncyEaster-2002, p. 431
EncyRel-1987, vol. 3, p. 441
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 54
FestWestEur-1958, pp. 59, 92, 107, 125, 163, 192
FolkAmerHol-1999, p. 167
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 172
OxYear-1999, p. 616
RelHolCal-2004, pp. 93, 120

Celebrated in: Austria, Equatorial Guinea, Finland, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Norway

Palm Sunday (Austria)
Between March 15 and April 18; the Sunday before Easter
Palm Sunday commemorates Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, where he was greeted by people waving palm branches. In Austria and the Bavarian region of Germany, farmers make Palmbuschen by attaching holly leaves, willow boughs, and cedar twigs to the tops of long poles. After the Palmbuschen have been blessed in the local church, the farmers set them up in their fields or barns to ward off illness, to protect their crops from hail and drought, and to preserve their families from other disasters. The Palmbuschen are kept there throughout the year.
See also Palm Sunday (Germany)
BkHolWrld-1986, Apr 5
EncyEaster-2002, p. 437
FestWestEur-1958, p. 59

Celebrated in: Austria

Palm Sunday (Finland)
Between March 15 and April 18; the Sunday before Easter
Instead of the traditional palm branches used in Palm Sunday observances elsewhere, birch branches are used in rural areas of Finland. Children may gather the branches or willow switches in the woods and decorate them with paper flowers and cloth streamers. According to custom, on the Saturday or Sunday before Easter, known as Willowswitch Saturday and Willowswitch Sunday, they go from house to house and spank the woman of the house lightly while reciting a Finnish refrain wishing her good health. The woman then uses a switch on her livestock in the same way. The switches are eventually collected and saved, to be used again the first time the cattle are driven to pasture in the new year. The children return on Easter to receive a treat.
Pussywillow or birch branches are also used to foretell the arrival of spring. Once they are cut, the days are counted until the buds on the branches open; this is how many weeks it will take for the trees in the forest to bud.
BkFest-1937, p. 112
EncyEaster-2002, pp. 203, 440
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 229

Celebrated in: Finland

Palm Sunday (Germany) (Palmsonntag)
Between March 15 and April 18; the Sunday before Easter
Although Palm Sunday customs vary from one part of Germany to the next, all celebrate the resurgence of life as symbolized by the arrival of spring. In the Black Forest, people decorate tall poles with pussywillows, heart or cross motifs, and long multicolored ribbon streamers. They set the decorated poles up in front of their houses and later carry them in procession to the local church, where they are blessed by the priest.
In Bavaria, branches from 12 different kinds of wood are cut, then bent and fastened to long poles in a semicircular shape and decorated with glass beads to resemble glittering trees. The trees are carried in procession to the church, blessed by the priest, and then set up in the farmers' fields to protect the crops and ensure a bountiful harvest.
One of the more unusual Palm Sunday customs in Germany is the Palm Esel, or wooden Palm Donkey, symbolic of the ass upon which Jesus entered Jerusalem. This survival of an ancient folk custom is carried to the village church. People believe that if they touch the Palm Donkey, they will share in the blessing that emanated from the humble ass that once carried Jesus.
See also Palm Sunday (Austria)
EncyEaster-2002, pp. 227, 437
FestWestEur-1958, p. 59

Celebrated in: Germany

Palm Sunday (Italy) (Domenica delle Palme)
Between March 15 and April 18; the Sunday before Easter
On Palm Sunday, the piazzas in front of most small Italian churches are filled with people dressed in spring clothes and vendors selling olive and palm branches. The olive branches are often gilded or painted silver, and the palms are braided into crosses and decorated with roses, lilies, or other flowers. After the palms have been blessed in the church, they are often exchanged as a peace offering or sign of reconciliation between those who have quarreled. In Rapallo, a center for the silk industry, silkworms' eggs are taken to church on Palm Sunday to be blessed.
The most impressive Palm Sunday observance, however, takes place in Rome. The pope, carried in St. Peter's Chair on the shoulders of eight men, comes out of St. Peter's Basilica to bless the palms. After the service, the golden palms are distributed among the clergy and the olive branches are distributed to the congregation. Then the thousands of worshippers who have gathered in St. Peter's Square march through the basilica and around the portico, emerging from one door and re-entering through another to symbolize the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The procession eventually makes its way to the high altar, where mass is said. Some of the palm branches are saved and later burned to make the next year's Ash Wednesday ashes. The rest are given to the people to take home, where they are treasured as protection against evil, particularly lightning and storms.
Italian Government Tourist Board
630 Fifth Ave., Ste. 1565
New York, NY 10111
212-245-5618; fax: 212-586-9249
BkFest-1937, p. 183
BkFestHolWrld-1970, p. 50
DaysCustFaith-1957, p. 104
FestSaintDays-1915, p. 55
FestWestEur-1958, p. 92

Celebrated in: Italy

Palm Sunday (Netherlands) (PalmZondag)
Between March 15 and April 18; the Sunday before Easter
The Palmpaas, or "Easter palm," in the Netherlands is a stick between 18" and 54" long to which a hoop has been attached. The hoop is covered with boxwood and decorated with colored paper flags, eggshells, sugar rings, oranges, raisins, figs, chocolate eggs, and small cakes. There are figures of swans or cocks on top that are made out of baked dough. Sometimes there are contests for the most elaborate Palmpaas. Children in rural areas of the Netherlands go from one farm to the next with their Palmpaas, singing nonsense verses in which they ask for Easter eggs, sometimes for use in the popular Easter sport of eiertikken, or egg tapping.
With its egg and bird decorations, it seems likely that the Palmpaas was originally a fertility symbol that represented the arrival of spring in the village and the resurgence of life after winter. In some Roman Catholic areas, the Palmpaas are blessed by the local priest and then saved as protection against lightning and sore throats during the coming year.
EncyEaster-2002, p. 439
FestWestEur-1958, p. 125
FolkWrldHol-1999, p. 173

Celebrated in: Netherlands

Palm Sunday (United States)
Between March 15 and April 18; the Sunday before Easter
Programs of sacred music are performed in many American towns and cities on Palm Sunday. They are often sponsored by and held in churches, but may be part of the musical community's regular concert series. These programs usually begin on or before Palm Sunday and may continue throughout Holy Week. Some of the more popular pieces performed at these concerts include Bach's St. John Passion or St. Matthew Passion, Handel's Messiah, Gounod's La RÉdemption, Haydn's Seven Last Words, Beethoven's Christ on the Mount of Olives, and Sir John Stainer's Crucifixion . Bethany College's Messiah Festival in Lindsborg, Kansas, has been held during Holy Week for over 100 years.
In addition to musical performances, plays or pageants dealing with Holy Week themes are often performed on Palm Sunday as well. The same group that performs the Black Hills Passion Play in South Dakota all summer for many years portrayed the last seven days in the life of Christ during Holy Week at an amphitheater near Lake Wales, Florida.
In St. Augustine, Florida, the Blessing of the Fishing and Shrimp Fleet takes place on Palm Sunday. Shrimp trawlers and other fishing boats, as well as many privately owned vessels, circle past the City Yacht Pier to receive the local priest's blessing.
Many people place the palm branches that have been blessed in the churches on Palm Sunday behind religious pictures and statues in homes, stores, and restaurants.
St. Augustine, Ponte Vedra & The Beaches Visitors & Convention Bureau
88 Riberia St., Ste. 400
St. Augustine, FL 32084
800-653-2489 or 904-829-1711; fax: 904-829-6149
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.

Palm Sunday

the Sunday before Easter commemorating Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005