Palm Sunday: the Meaing, the Symbols, the Traditions
Palm Sunday is the sixth and last Sunday of Lent. It also marks the beginning of the Holy Week which ends with Easter Sunday. Christians all over the world celebrate it in memory of Jesus' entering Jerusalem. Palm Sunday is a moveable feast, based on Liturgical Year (constructed on Lunar cycles from pagan traditions).
Palm Sunday Story Summary
The story of Palm Sunday is mentioned in four of the bible Testaments (John, Luke, Mark, and Matthew). It depicts the triumphal entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem, which followed the miracle of Lazarus' resurrection.
Jesus entered the city on a donkey which matched more than a five-hundred-year-old prophecy about the king who will come to Jerusalem and become the king of all people of Zion.
Folk believed he will rescue them from Roman occupation. They greeted him and his disciples by throwing palm leaves and even their cloaks in front of him. Yet Jesus didn't come to become that kind of king but to rescue all his followers of Satan just like he defeated his temptations in forty days in the desert (now remembered as the season of Lent).
Jesus wept after his arrival. He knew the same people who were cheering for him would yell to cross him just a few days later. Yet he came to save their immortal souls from their sins.
His kingdom was not of this world.
Palm Sunday is called after palm leaves and branches, which were, according to the story, laid in front of Jesus' donkey and thrown in the air. Many Christian Churches call it Passion Sunday (in the Roman Catholic Church it was the fifth Sunday of Lent until 1969).
Several Orthodox churches name the Palm Sunday after the story: Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem. Hosanna (or Oshana) Sunday got the name after the cheerful calls 'Hosanna!', shouted by people who welcomed Jesus as their savior (The Messiah). 'Hossana!' roughly translates to 'Save now!'.
Palms are not readily available in a colder climate, so other names for Palm Sunday are used as well. In areas where other plants than Palm are used, Palm Sunday can be named Branch Sunday, Flowering (Flower's) Sunday (generic names), Yew Sunday (after the yew tree), Pussy Willow Sunday (after pussy willow), etc.
Meaning of Palm Sunday
This Christian holiday is celebrated from the fourth (in Jerusalem) or seventh (West) century in different forms. It remembers the people of Jesus' arrival in Jerusalem and welcomes his teachings in the hearts of Christians. It's an opportunity to rethink our relationship with spirituality.
While a lot of action spins around blessings of palm leaves and branches (or other plants), the real focus is on the reading of Passion and a procession as a commemoration of the procession described in the Bible. Sometimes real and sometimes a wooden donkey is used.
The significance of Palm Sunday is honoring Christ, his sacrifice, and his teaching, but also a bit of a warning. While Jesus Christ came peacefully on the donkey, his second coming will be on the horse, bringing judgment.
Symbols of Palm Sunday
Donkey is definitely one of them. The donkey represents peace (in some parts of the world kings returned to their countries after wins and endings of the wars, while they left them on horses, going to war), humility, service, and suffering, which all fit Jesus and his goals. Donkey also reminded the observers that Jesus Christ is one of them, as most people had an experience of riding a donkey but not a horse, meaning Jesus is not above other people.
Palm leaves symbolize victory and peace. They were the symbol of the Greek goddess Nike and were given to winners of ancient Olympics. Similar was their use in Roman Empire. Traditionally palm leaves are used in several Mediterranean areas as a part of funeral processions symbolizing eternal life. Palm branches used on Palm Sunday symbolically represent the peaceful winning of Christianity over sin and life over death. There are also other connotations: goodness, grandeur, and steadfastness. They were carved in the doors of King Solomon's temple.
The color red symbolizes the blood of Jesus and is used for liturgical garments during ceremonies of Palm Sunday (on Good Friday and on several other occasions, too). Red is the color of life, fire, passion, and sacrifice.
Palm Sunday Greetings
Christians should spread blessings and love during the Holy Week which starts with Palm Sunday. There are a few possible greetings for this occasion:
- Have a blessed Palm Sunday.
- May Palm Sunday and the Holy Week bring you good fortune and prosperity.
- Happy Palm Sunday!
- May Jesus bless you and your family with health and wealth!
- Pray to the Lord on Palm Sunday and your prayers will be accepted.
- A warm greeting for a great Palm Sunday.
Sunday Palm Traditions
Processions are by far the most attractive tradition of Palm Sunday in numerous countries all over the world. Some processions start in one church, perform a ceremony in other, and return to the first church. Others start in one church or other place and end in another church.
Blessings of palm or olive branches and other plants are widely popular. In some cases, flower arrangements are used. After the blessing with holy water, they are brought to homes and used as decoration, sometimes transformed into crosses. When not used anymore, they are should not be simply thrown in the trash because they are considered sacred objects. Some churches have special places where such branches are placed until the next Ash Wednesday when they are burned.
Interesting Palm Sunday Traditions Over the World
- In Bulgaria people with flower-related names like Biliana, Cvetan, Cvetana, Lilia, Margareta, Rosa, Violeta, ... celebrate the Flower's Sunday as their name day.
- In England, there was a tradition of burning Jack-'o'-Lent figures made of straw. These figures were stoned on Ash Wednesday as a symbolic revenge on Judas who sold Jesus for 40 silver coins. Several historians believe this tradition comes from pagan times when personified Winter.
- In Ireland great Catholic feasts Yew Sunday and St. Patrick's Day (March 17th) can fall on the same day on rare occasions. It's said that palm and shamrock are worn together when great things are about to happen. The last such occasion was in 1940 (the beginning of World War II) and the next will be in 2391.
- In Latvia, children are traditionally woken by swipes of willows on the Pussy Willow Sunday.
- In some areas of Finland, children dress as witches on Palm Sunday, going door to door, and offering branches in exchange for candy, coins, and other small gifts. A very similar tradition can be found in parts od Sweden and Syria.
- In the Philippines, blessed branches are brought home and placed on doors or windows. While the church claims this is a sign of welcoming Jesus, many believe they work against evil spirits as well.
- In Poland, people compete for the most beautifully decorated branches on Palm Sunday. They also hold competitions with constructions of the biggest artificial palms which can exceed 30 meters.
- In Wales, cemeteries are cleaned and graves decorated on Palm Sunday.
In year 2023 we celebrate it on April the 2nd. Happy Palm Sunday!