Five Things You May Not Know About Palm Sunday
Today is Palm Sunday, a day that is always the week before Easter Sunday in the Christian Church. It is a representation of the day Jesus of Nazareth entered Jerusalem and is mentioned in all four Canonical Gospels of the Bible (Mark, Matthew, Luke and John). It is commonly celebrated with the distribution of palm fronds to the parishioners. Even though this is a widely celebrated event in the Christian religion, do you really know the reasoning behind it? Here are five facts about this holy day that you might not have known.
The Christians believe on this day, Jesus entered Jerusalem with much celebration. It is said that He entered the city upon a donkey which was a symbol of peace in the ancient world. Triumphant kings who brought war to a region would be depicted of entering an area on horseback – an animal of battle. The donkey meant that a king was entering the city in the name of peace. Upon entry, the people covered his path with their cloaks and with palm fronds. Today, many churches pass out palm fronds (long, thin pieces of palm tree leaves) to the worshipers. Sometimes these are already tied into the shape of a cross. In colder regions where palm is hard to come by, yew, willow, or some other leaf is used in place of the palm. They call this day Yew Sunday or Branch Sunday.
Celebrating In The Past
During the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe, Palm Sunday was celebrated by burning Jack-O’-Lent figures – a straw effigy of Judas Iscariot, the apostle who betrayed Jesus Christ for thirty pieces of silver. They would take this straw doll and stone it and burn it as a hatred for Judas. The symbolism also was used to get rid of Winter and to welcome the coming of Spring. Incidentally, the last name, Iscariot, didn’t show up until halfway through the first century AD after his death. It is Hebrew for “assassin” which were people trying to get the Romans out of Judea, the land where Jesus preached.
What Happens To The Palms?
In many churches, after the palms are passed out, the parishioners take them home after the service and put them on their home crosses. There, they remain throughout the year, because they have been blessed by the priest or minister. The next Lenten season, which typically starts in February and March, requires the worshipers to return them to the church where they received them and they are then burned and used for ashes given out on Ash Wednesday. The Roman Catholic Church considers the palms to be sacramentals or items that are supposed to inspire greater faith.
Eastern Beliefs For Palm Sunday
The Eastern Orthodox church does not consider Palm Sunday to be a part of Lent. According to them, Lent ends on the Friday before Palm Sunday. They also celebrate “Lazarus Saturday” as a part of the Holy Week. The day commemorates the resurrection of Lazarus from the dead. On Lazarus Saturday, believers often prepare palm fronds by knotting them into crosses in preparation for the procession on Sunday. The hangings and vestments in the church are changed to a festive color- Gold in the Greek tradition and green in the Slavic tradition. Where palm fronds cannot be found in some of the colder regions of Russia, the pussy willow is used in its place for Palm Sunday (or Pussy Willow Sunday).
Where It Is Celebrated
Palm Sunday is celebrated throughout Europe and the United States. It can also be found in Mexico, Canada, all of South America, the Middle East (in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel), India, Russia, and the Philippines. Basically, if Christianity is practiced in a region, they celebrate Palm Sunday. The methods in how it is practiced may differ, based on availability of plants, but the reasoning is the same. Palm Sunday is all about peace, triumph, and celebration of Jesus preparing to make His ultimate sacrifice.
If you are interested in more information about Palm Sunday and the Lenten Season, check out these stories: