Palm Sunday: Christians (virtually) mark Jesus’ Jerusalem entry, Holy Week

palm branches Palm Sunday

Photo by Bru-nO, courtesy of Pixabay

SUNDAY, APRIL 5: With the Passion of Jesus at hand and Easter on the horizon, Western Christians begin preparations for the pivotal week to come on Palm Sunday, commemorating Jesus’s ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, and according to all four canonical Gospels, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. In joyful exultation, the crowds that had gathered in Jerusalem laid down clothing and small branches in his path.

EASTERN CHRISTIANS will mark Palm Sunday one week later, on April 12, in 2020.

GO VIRTUAL: ONLINE RESOURCES FOR PALM SUNDAY & HOLY WEEK

Girl fronds Palm Sunday

A girl selling palms in Venezuela on Palm Sunday. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

This year, with COVID-19 lockdowns in many states and countries, most Christians will be observing Palm Sunday virtually. Aside from some churches offering sermons online, Catholics can check out this YouTube video to learn more about Palm Sunday; kids can check out this video.

For a look at Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem reenacted, taken from various movie clips, check out this YouTube video.

Interested in watching last year’s Palm Sunday mass at the Vatican? Watch the whole celebration, here.

Masses, Stations of the Cross and more, via livestream: During Holy Week, the faithful can observe traditions virtually. Check out this list of online masses and Stations of the Cross, courtesy of Catholic News Service.

THE PALM BRANCH: A MULTI-FACETED SYMBOL

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branch symbol sometimes showed up on coins and decorated important buildings and temples. In Roman Catholic, Anglican and many Protestant congregations, palm fronds are blessed and distributed on Palm Sunday. Though local species of branches may be substituted where palm fronds are unavailable—for example, box, yew, willow and olive branches are also used, among others—the branch most widely distributed is the palm. In some parishes, a procession also occurs on this Sunday. The blessed palms, regarded as sacred objects in the Catholic Church, are often kept behind household crucifixes or holy pictures and, tradition says, these fronds could be burned at next year’s Ash Wednesday services.

PALM BRAIDING

Every  year our readers ask for tips on palm braiding, so here are this year’s best tips:

Watch tutorials on palm braiding, or use step-by-step instructions, with help from U.S. Catholic.org, YouTube, Catholic Inspired and Fish Eaters.

In countries where palm fronds are widely available, such as Spain and Mexico, the weaving of intricate designs and figures is common practice on Palm Sunday.

St. Patrick’s Day: Read, cook and watch, this year, to immerse in Irish culture

Abbey in Ireland, St. Patrick's Day

Kylemore Abbey, Ireland. Cook Irish food, read Irish books or watch movies about the Emerald Isle to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day this year. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

TUESDAY, MARCH 17: Cancellations of St. Patrick’s Day parades and events are occurring worldwide due to mandates for the novel coronavirus, but those hoping to honor St. Patrick don’t have to go out this year to do it: Recipes abound online (see links at the bottom of this post), and sources like USA Today are offering alternative activities (click here for a list of five popular Irish books). Forbes suggests six at-home ways to pay homage to Irish culture—”even without a parade.”

Green clover, St. Patrick's Day

Three-leaf clovers were used by St. Patrick to explain the Holy Trinity. Photo courtesy of Needpix

ST. PATRICK: FROM SLAVE TO SAINT

The legendary patron saint of Ireland began life c. 385 CE, in Roman Britain. With a wealthy family whose patron was a deacon, the young man who would become known as St. Patrick led a comfortable life until his teenage years, when he was kidnapped and taken as a slave to Gaelic Ireland. During his six years in Ireland, Patrick gained a deeper Christian faith. When he dreamed that God told him to flee to the coast, Patrick did so—and traveled home to become a priest. Following ordination, however, another dream prompted Patrick to do what no one expected: to return to Ireland.

As a Christian in Ireland, Patrick worked to convert the pagan Irish. With a three-leaved shamrock in hand to explain the Holy Trinity to the pagans, St. Patrick converted many. St. Patrick died on March 17, 461 at Downpatrick.

Surprisingly, the most widely known saint from Ireland was never formally canonized by the Catholic Church. Since no formal canonization process existed in the Church’s first millennium, St. Patrick was deemed a saint only by popular acclaim and local approval.

PATRICK’S ‘BREASTPLATE’

St. Pat’s Day may be a secular occasion in many communities, but it also has deep religious roots that matter to millions.

The purest forms of religious expression, each year, occur—naturally—in Ireland. One of the most popular posts in the decade-long history of ReadTheSpirit is a collection of three versions of the famous prayer known as The Breastplate:

Versions 1 and 2: Here is St. Patrick’s Breastplate in English prose and in 19th Century lines of a hymn.
Version 3:
We also have St. Patrick’s Breastplate in Gaelic.

St. Patrick stained glass

A stained-glass representation of St. Patrick. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

You probably remember some of the most famous lines from St. Patrick, such as:

God’s shield to protect me,
God’s host to save me

And also:
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me,
Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me.

But, there is so much more to this classic prayer!

Alternatively, start here for a Gaelic version and follow the link to find two more English versions, one as poetry and one as refashioned for a hymn.

Did you know? St. Patrick’s Day was made an official Christian feast day by the early 17th century, observed by the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Lutherans and members of the Church of Ireland.

RECIPES, CRAFT IDEAS & MORE

Got dreams of hearty Irish stews, hot Reuben sandwiches and cold drinks? Get into the Irish spirit with these recipe ideas (and some crafts, too):

  • A plethora of easy-to-follow recipes, from brisket to soda bread, is at AllRecipes.
  • Kids can get into the spirit of the Irish with craft ideas from Parenting.com.

Meatfare & Cheesefare Sundays: Orthodox Christians prepare for Lent

Cheeseburgers, meat and dairy

On February 23 and March 1, 2020, Orthodox Christians will partake in meat and dairy for the last time before Pascha (Easter). Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 23 and SUNDAY, MARCH 1: Lent is quickly approaching for the world’s 2 billion Christians, and on February 23, Eastern Orthodox churches take the first steps toward their traditional Lenten fast with Meatfare Sunday (also referred to as the Sunday of the Last Judgment). After Meatfare Sunday, no meat may be consumed until Pascha (Easter).

One week later, Cheesefare Sunday will mark the discontinuation of partaking in dairy products until Pascha. For Orthodox Christians, Great Lent begins the day following Cheesefare Sunday, on Clean Monday—this year, March 2.

MEATFARE SUNDAY (THE LAST JUDGMENT )

On Meatfare Sunday, or the Sunday of the Last Judgment, emphasis is placed on the Second Coming and Last Judgment—a time when Christ (in the Gospel of Matthew) refers to coming in glory with the angels to judge the living and the dead. While the opportunity exists, the faithful are encouraged to repent. The parable of the Last Judgment points out that Christ will judge on love: How well one has shared God’s love, and how deeply one has cared for others.

Looking to cook up a delicious meat dish today?  Find recipes at Allrecipes, Southern Living and Food Network.

CHEESEFARE SUNDAY (AND FORGIVENESS)

Berry cheesecake slice with spoon

On March 1, Orthodox Christians will consume dairy for the last time until Pascha. Photo by Marco Verch, courtesy of Flickr

Great Lent commences for Eastern Christians on the day following Cheesefare Sunday, on Clean Monday—but the faithful already are cleaning their slates today, by asking forgiveness and preparing to eliminate dairy from their diets until Pascha. (Dairy is permitted on Cheesefare Sunday, but not from the day following.) In the Orthodox church, this year, March 1 is Forgiveness Sunday (also known as Cheesefare Sunday).

On the search for dairy recipes? Find recipes from Eating Well, Food Network and Dairy Goodness, a recipe collection from the Dairy Farmers of Canada.

Throughout Great Lent and until Pascha (Easter), Eastern Christians will fast from meat and dairy products and only consume oil and wine on occasion.

Starting on the evening of Forgiveness Sunday, the Vespers of Forgiveness will signal the first liturgy of Great Lent; the service will end when attendees ask forgiveness from both fellow congregation members and the priest. If you have Orthodox friends and colleagues, this is a moving liturgy to attend, as the process of forgiveness often is deeply personal for the faithful.

Fat Tuesday, Ash Wednesday: Western Christians prepare for, enter Lent

Couple in Venice dressed up for Carnivale

A couple dressed up for Carnivale, Venice, 2016. Photo by Y Nakanishi

TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 25 and WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 26: With Lent quickly approaching and Easter on the horizon, Western Christians enter the season of repentance on Ash Wednesday—after, of course, making any last indulgences the day before, on Fat Tuesday.

MARDI GRAS: FAT TUESDAY, PANCAKES AND PACZKIS

Traditionally an opportunity for Christian households to cleanse their cupboards of butter and eggs in preparation for Lent, Mardi Gras (literally, “Fat Tuesday) has evolved far beyond its simple, pancakes-and-paczkis roots. The food-laden traditions of Shrove Tuesday do still exist—in England, pancake races have been held continuously since the 15th century, and doughnut shops worldwide continue to bake millions of paczkis—but the elaborate festivities have morphed into mega-festivals across the globe. Whether it’s Carnival in Brazil, Carnevale in Italy or Mardi Gras in New Orleans, days-long events finally come to a close on Ash Wednesday, as Christians begin the 40 days of Lent.

Recipes! Shrimp gumbo, jambalaya and King Cake can be on your menu, with help from Food Network and Taste of Home.

CARNIVAL: FROM EPIPHANY TO FAT TUESDAY

Paczkis, common fare on Fat Tuesday. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Epiphany—or King’s Day, on January 6— signals the official start of Carnival season. Montevideo, Uruguay, is the first city to kick off festivities for Carnival, in a celebration that lasts 40 days. In most cities, events begin one or two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday, with colorful parades, masquerade dress, festive music and, of course, plenty of sweet and fried breads. Whether it’s the Polish paczki, the English pancake or the Swedish semla, the tradition of using sugar, lard, butter and eggs on Fat Tuesday has as many cultural variations as nations that celebrate.

Did you know? In the Belgian city of Binche, the Mardi Gras festival is known as the Carnival of Binche. It was proclaimed one of the Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, in 2003.

In the UK and Ireland, the week prior to Ash Wednesday is known as “Shrovetide,” ending on Shrove Tuesday and always involving pancakes. Shrove Tuesday is derived from the word shrive, which means, “to confess.” The Christian Mardi Gras began in Medieval Europe, although Venice remains one of the most sought-after destinations for the holiday. (CNN has a slideshow of the world’s most dazzling Mardi Gras celebrations.)

Did you know? “Carnival” derives from the Latin carne levare, which means, “to take away meat.”

Across the world, in Rio de Janeiro, Carnival has become such a massive event—so much so, in fact, that the country attracts 70 percent of its tourists during this time! Mardi Gras came to the United States in 1699, when French explorers Pierre and Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne were sent to defend France’s claim on the territory of Louisiane. Today, Mardi Gras reigns strong in New Orleans.

REPENT AND BEGIN LENT ON ASH WEDNESDAY

For Christians, Lent begins on February 26, with Ash Wednesday.

In representation of the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert, Christians observe the 40 days of Lent (excluding Sundays) in preparation for Easter. On Ash Wednesday, able adults fast, and all able Christians abstain from meat and practice repentance. Records indicate that from the earliest centuries, the days preceding Jesus Christ’s death were filled with a solemnity of fasting and penitence.The custom of clergy placing ashes upon the foreheads of the faithful is rooted in the practice of doing so as a sign of mourning and repentance to God.

On Ash Wednesday, Christians recall their mortality and express sorrow for sins. Traditionally, palm fronds from the previous year’s Palm Sunday are burned into ashes for Ash Wednesday services, and the ashes are then blessed. The Catholic Church permits ashes on the forehead for anyone who wishes to receive them—not just baptized Catholics. Generally, the practice of ashes is kept by Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists and Anglicans.

 

12th Night, Epiphany and Theophany: Ancient traditions mark close of Christmas

Persons in era Christmas clothing, some with instruments, some persons in everyday clothing, march down street in happy procession

A Twelfth Night procession in Great Britain. Photo by Stephen Craven

MONDAY, JANUARY 6: Epiphany in Western Christianity; Theophany (or Divine Manifestation) in Eastern Christianity.

Did you know? Dates and customs vary widely! These festivals have been evolving for many centuries. Epiphany and Theophany customs in some countries actually mingle Eastern and Western Christian traditions—look to Eastern Europe for examples. Also, many Christians in the U.S. marked Epiphany on Sunday January 5 this year. In fact, the official U.S. Roman Catholic calendar considers all of this week to be an extension of “Christmas week,” so the next Christian season (Ordinary Time) does not begin until January 13, 2020. 

Here’s more about these festivals …

TWELFTH NIGHT

Only a century ago, Christmas celebrations were reaching their peak on the night of January 5. Hard to believe? It’s true—the 12th day of Christmas, known better as Twelfth Night, has long been an occasion for special cakes, “misrule” (lively celebrations) and plenty of merrymaking. In the Christian Church, Twelfth Night is Epiphany Eve, as the faithful prepare for the feast celebrating the visitation of the Magi. In some Catholic countries, children anticipate small gifts and candies to be left on the evening of January 5, as the Magi “pass by” on their way to Bethlehem. Songs such as “We Three Kings of Orient Are” and “I Saw Three Ships” pay homage to the Magi and, respectively, to their relics being transported to Cologne, aboard three ships.

Did you know? George and Martha Washington were married on Twelfth Night. In past centuries, it was common for weddings to be held during Christmastide (the period between Christmas and Epiphany).

Round cake of bread and with red and green decor on top, with paper crown in middle

A Spanish Rosca de reyes, commonly consumed on Twelfth Night or Epiphany. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

In centuries past, the early days of January were filled with plenty of fatty, sugary foods, drinks, parties and gatherings around the table with family and friends. Particularly in medieval and Tudor England, it was custom for a Twelfth Night cake to be served, into which a bean was cooked: the recipient of piece of cake with the bean would rule for the evening. As Twelfth Night ended a winter festival, the Lord of Misrule gained sovereignty. (Wikipedia has details.) For one evening—until midnight—peasants were treated as kings, and kings as peasants. The Lord of Misrule tradition dates back to Celtic and Ancient Roman civilizations.

In Colonial America, the Christmas wreath was left on the door until the end of the Twelve Days of Christmas, at which time any edible portions were consumed. In a similar manner, any fruits on Christmas trees were consumed on Twelfth Night. (Interested in the Victorian era’s take on Twelfth Night? Read more at JaneAusten.co.uk.)

EPIPHANY AND THEOPHANY

ON EPIPHANY, Christians worldwide rejoice in the manifestation of Jesus, revealed as God the Son, on the Feast of Epiphany (in Greek, Theophany). Literally “striking appearance,” or “vision of God,” Epiphany and Theophany have been central to both Eastern and Western Christian calendars for centuries. Through Advent, the Western Christian Church anticipated the coming of Jesus, and of course Mary and Joseph were the earliest witnesses. But Christian tradition holds that one key moment in this revelation was the arrival of the Magi—representatives of other nations—when the true unveiling of God’s purpose took place.

In a similar way, Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Jesus’s manifestation as the Son of God, at this time of year, but Eastern tradition focuses on his baptism in the Jordan River as the key moment of revelation.

Epiphany customs in some regions of the world rival those of Christmas, complete with parades, parties, king cakes and “visiting” Magi. On the morning of Epiphany in Poland, some children dress in traditional clothing, carols are sung and homes are blessed; in Argentina, many children awake to find gifts left by the “passing” Magi.

In Eastern Orthodox Christian communities, observances are far more elaborate. Epiphany is called Theophany and also commemorates the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan River. Because all three branches of the Holy Trinity were present at Jesus’ baptism, according to church teaching, this event marks the moment at which Jesus was fully recognized as the Son of God. (Wikipedia has details.)

It remains common for priests to bless water on Epiphany and for parishioners to ingest, sprinkle or swim in water. This can become quite a vivid event! Orthodox priests bless both a baptismal font and a “living” body of water, and even in countries with frigid temperatures in the winter months, some brave souls like to dive into the freezing—but blessed—water. According to Greek custom, a priest may throw a crucifix into the “living” water, and any number of swimmers will attempt to find the cross. The lucky swimmer who finds the cross then returns it to the priest, in exchange for a blessing. The largest Epiphany event of this kind in the Western Hemisphere, performed for more than a century, happens annually in Tarpon Springs, Fla.

New Year’s Eve / Watch Night: Welcome, 2020!

New Year's Eve clock, fireworks

Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 31: Champagne toasts, fireworks and Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest kick off the start of the Gregorian year worldwide, as revelers usher in the year 2020. In several countries, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day means family gatherings, elaborate meals and plenty of parties. From the United States to Mexico, Ireland and Japan, time-honored traditions meet the latest global trends on New Year’s Eve In New York, celebrities and party-goers watch the famed “ball drop” in Times Square, counting the seconds as the 12,000-pound crystal ball lowers to ground level.

NEW YEAR’S EVE: FROM MEXICO TO RUSSIA TO NEW YORK

For many, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day traditions span centuries. In Mexico, it is tradition to eat one grape with each chime of the clock’s bell at midnight, making a wish with each grape. A special sweetbread is baked for the holiday, and in homes across the country, red, yellow and green decorations are hung, in hopes of luck in the New Year in life, love, work and wealth. In Korea, ancestors are paid tribute at the New Year, and in Canada, the United States and the UK, Polar Bear Plunges have steadily been gaining popularity as a New Year’s Day custom. In Russia, some blini is in order for a proper New Year’s party. Tradition traces the thin pancakes back to ancient Slavs, and today, Russian blini may be stuffed with cheese or served in a variety of other ways. (Find a recipe and more at WallStreetJournal.com.)

New Year's Eve Times Square

Times Square, in New York, on New Year’s Eve. Photo courtesy of Flickr

From Times Square: Since 1907, the famous New York City “ball drop” has marked New Year’s Eve for millions in Times Square and for billions more through televised broadcasting of the event. Notable televised events began in 1956, with Guy Lombardo and his band broadcasting from the ballroom of New York’s Waldorf-Astoria hotel. During the tenure of Guy Lombardo, young dick Clark began to broadcast on ABC, and following Lombardo’s death in 1977, Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve soon became the hit of the nation. Dick Clark hosted the show for 33 years, and in 2005, Ryan Seacrest hosted his first show, which is now called Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve with Ryan Seacrest.

WATCH NIGHT AND MARY: A CHRISTIAN NEW YEAR CELEBRATION

In some Christian churches, New Year’s Eve is a night of quiet reflection, prayer and thanksgiving. There’s a long-standing Methodist tradition called “Watch Night,” a custom started by Methodism’s founder John Wesley, and some Protestant groups follow similar traditions. In Greece and in Orthodox Christian communities, New Year’s is spent singing Kalanda—carols—and eating the vasilopita, or St. Basil’s, cake. On January 1, the octave of Christmas culminates in the feast of the Solemnity of Mary, Mother of God.

SHOGATSU: JAPANESE BUDDHIST SPECTACULAR

In Japan, New Year’s preparations begin weeks in advance, with pressed rice cakes prepared in a variety of flavors and often cooked with broth for a traditional New Year’s soup. At midnight on Dec. 31, Buddhist temples ring their bells 108 times, which is an auspicious number in Buddhist tradition. After midnight, many families head to a local temple to pray, and then feast together afterward. The following morning, New Year’s greetings are exchanged and delicacies like sashimi and sushi are consumed.

New Year's dessert

A pomegranate dessert for New Year’s. Photo courtesy of Max Pixel

PARTY PLANNING: RECIPES, HOSTING TIPS AND COCKTAILS

  • Drink recipes are at Forbes.com and Delish. Looking for a mocktail? Delicious combinations are available from HGTV.

Christmas, Nativity: Christians across the globe rejoice in Christ’s birth

Altar of a church decorated for Christmas

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 25: Sing for joy and ring the bells—it’s Christmas! The Old English Christ’s Mass celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ for Christians worldwide, hailing from snow-covered mountains to sandy beaches, crowded cities to rural fields—and everywhere in between.

Pew Research tells us that, even with declines in religious affiliation in the U.S., half of all Americans say they attend church on Christmas Eve.

Central to the liturgical year, Christmas closes Advent and begins the Twelve Days of Christmastide. Though the exact year of Jesus’ birth can’t be placed, Christian families re-read two Gospels that describe a lowly manger, visiting shepherds, magi and, of course, that mysterious guiding star (now believed to have been a rare alignment of planets). While previously a time of year when winter Solstice was celebrated in the Roman empire, Christians transformed this darkest period of the year and say that Jesus’ coming fulfills ancient prophesy that a “Sun of righteousness” would come, and that his (red) blood and (green) eternal life provide hope to the whole world. Even St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican boasts an impressive mosaic of Christo Sole, Christ the Sun, in its pre-4th-century necropolis.

Earliest evidence of a Christmas celebration centered around Jesus dates to 354 CE, when events took place in Rome (note that the birth of Christ was already being observed at this time by Eastern Christians, on Epiphany). The first Christmas hymns emerged in 4th century Rome, but the Epiphany holiday continued to dominate Christmas through the Middle Ages. During the medieval period, Christmas grew in popularity over Epiphany. During this time, the 40 days prior to Christmas became known as the “forty days of St. Martin”—a tradition that evolved into Advent.

CHRISTMAS DIY: DECORATIONS, RECIPES & PARTY TIPS

Whether your halls are decked to the hilt or boasting a sparse sprig of holly, have no fear—there’s still time to bring cheer to your home! We’ve searched the web and spotted these online gems that are worth a click and a look …

Martha Stewart offers a selection of handmade gift ideas, ornament inspirations and more. Don’t leave out the kids—their crafts and printables are at Kaboose. After the stockings and wreaths are hung, it’s time to focus on the Christmas meal—an all-important aspect to Christmas in many cultures. In areas of Italy, 12 kinds of fish are served on Christmas Eve (get Italian Christmas recipes here), while in England, fare often includes goose, gravy, potatoes, bread and cider. Whether Midnight Mass interrupts your menu or not, don’t forget dessert—American cookies, traditional pudding, fruit cakes and mince pies. (Taste of Home and AllRecipes offer everything from appetizer to dessert recipes.)

Cooking for guests with special requests? Find a gluten-free menu and a vegetarian menu from Huffington Post. In Malta, a chocolate and chestnut beverage is served after the 12 a.m. Christmas services. Chocolate lovers can find more festive food ideas at Hersheys.com.

DID YOU KNOW? (PARTY ICEBREAKERS)

Now, for some extra fun: Are you looking to strike up a conversation with a stranger—or that family member you only see once a year? Try tossing out a few of these interesting tidbits during your next gathering:

Sancte Claus was retroactively named the patron saint of Nieuw Amsterdam (the Dutch name for New York City) in 1809

• President Ulysses S. Grant declared Christmas a federal holiday in the United States in 1870. Five years later, the first American Christmas card was produced

• Charles Dickens sought to recreate Christmas as a family centered holiday of generosity and secularity. Unlike modern-day Europe and U.S., workers in Dickens’ day did not get “days off” in their work schedules. In addition to campaigning for a full-day December 25 holiday in A Christmas Carol, Dickens was one of the leading British activists for Sunday-holiday laws in the UK that would give workers a weekly sabbath off work. So, there was a major political campaign behind Dickens’ fanciful tales.