Palm Sunday: Holy Week begins with Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem

Children walking down aisle, palm fronds held by church members, bishop in background

Palm Sunday 2014 at Westminster Cathedral. Photo by Catholic Church England and Wales, courtesy of Flickr

SUNDAY, MARCH 29: With Easter just one week away, Western Christians (Catholic and Protestant) begin preparations for the pivotal week to come. The liturgical calendar for Eastern Orthodox Christians is a week later for this season.

Holy Week commences with Palm Sunday, the feast commemorating Jesus’ ceremonial entry into Jerusalem. (Eastern Christians mark Palm Sunday on April 5, this year.) 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. (Learn more from Catholic Culture.)

THE PALM BRANCH: YESTERDAY AND TODAY

Thousands of years ago, palm branches symbolized integrity and triumph. The palm-branche 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. (Wikipedia has details.) 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

Palms waving on Palm SundayEvery  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. In Latvia, pussy willows are blessed and, traditionally, used to swat children awake on the morning of Palm Sunday. In Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, Palm Sunday is an occasion for family and is extremely popular, complete with palm weaving, processions and a splashing of holy water. In the Philippines, Jesus’ entry in Jerusalem is reenacted.

Did you know? Aside from palm braiding, Palm Sunday is sometimes considered a customary time to eat figs, in light of Jesus’s interaction with a fig tree after his entry into Jerusalem. In addition, Palm Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday are considered the ideal time to thoroughly clean the home, so that Thursday, Friday and Saturday may be set aside to focus on Christ’s passion and the home may be spotless for Easter.

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