Palm Sunday: Christians begin Holy Week with fronds and Jesus’ Jerusalem entry

Sunlight through palm fronds on tree

Palm fronds. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

SUNDAY, APRIL 9: Christians around the world enter Holy Week in preparation for Easter on Palm Sunday, marked by the ancient story of Jesus’ donkey ride into Jerusalem. Biblical accounts and artists through the centuries describe overjoyed people in the streets of Jerusalem celebrating Jesus’s entry by throwing down of cloaks and palm branches in his path, in imitation of a custom used only for those of highest honor. Described in all four Gospels, Jesus’ ride was a popular event. Yet how quickly events will turn within a week, Christians recall today, amid the waving fronds.

As Jesus rode slowly into Jerusalem, according to Christian tradition, the gathered crowd began singing from Psalms: “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” Today, Christians regard this entry as the fulfillment of a prediction in Zacharias; as such, many churches distribute their own fresh palm branches. In climates where palm branches aren’t available, other tree branches—yew, box and willow, for example—may be distributed instead. A church-wide procession often follows the blessing of the branches.

What happens to those branches after they’re distributed? In many congregations, members save them in their homes. Traditional Catholics tend to tuck them behind a crucifix. Some countries pride themselves on the historical tradition of tying elaborate shapes with the fresh palms. In Mexico and Italy, especially, many will weave the palms into elaborate patterns and shapes and hang them above holy pictures, behind a crucifix or on the wall.  In Elche, Spain—the site of the largest palm grove in Europe—palm leaves whitened and dried, after which skilled craftsmen braid them into extravagant shapes and figures.

Interested in braiding your own palm fronds? Learn how, with help from this YouTube video tutorial.

In many churches, the branches from today’s services are saved until the next year’s Ash Wednesday, when they are burned as a source of ashes.

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