The history of Palm Sunday. How is an Orthodox holiday different from a Catholic one? What date falls on? Church traditions, folk rituals and modern customs.
Palm Sunday is one of the great twelve holidays, the most significant dates after Easter in Orthodoxy, dedicated to the events of the life of Jesus Christ. To be more precise, this day is intended to remind believers of the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, which was followed by the Last Supper, betrayal, judgment, crucifixion and, finally, the Resurrection. What traditions surround the bright holiday in our country and in other states?
Palm Sunday Story
The history of Palm Sunday began in 33 AD, when Christ and his disciples entered the holy city of Jerusalem for the Jews. Rather, he drove in on a small donkey found in a nearby village. The Holy Scripture has a great meaning in the image of this modest animal, because earthly kings and generals traditionally entered the city on horseback, towering over the people. By choosing such an undemanding transport for himself, Jesus emphasized his closeness to the people for whom he went to suffer and die.
However, on Palm Sunday, as it will be called later, the Savior did not manage to enter the city quietly. On the eve of Bethany, Christ performed a miracle by resurrecting the recently deceased Lazarus. Today, in honor of this significant event, Orthodox and Catholics celebrate Lazorev Saturday, and in those distant times, people who heard about the miracle flocked to the gates of the city in droves to look at the amazing preacher. Many laid their own clothes on the road in front of him as a sign of reverence, threw flowers and palm leaves under the donkey's hooves, shouted "Hosanna!", Welcoming the Savior … This is how the first Palm Sunday in history looked.
And no one but Christ could have imagined that the solemn entrance to the holy city marked the beginning of the mournful journey of Jesus to Calvary, and very soon the same crowd would shout "Crucify him!"
Note! The official date Palm Sunday, which received the church name of the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, acquired much later, in the 4th century. Before that there was no tradition to celebrate this holiday.
They say that after the spread of Christianity to the northern lands, thin twigs of willow began to serve as a prototype of palm leaves, since it is this tree that first comes to life in the spring, dissolving fluffy inflorescences on its branches, and therefore has every right to serve as the personification of new life.
However, for scientists-ethnologists, the question of what kind of holiday is Palm Sunday is not yet closed. There is a version of the merger with the Orthodox teachings of the ancient pagan holiday Verbochlast, during which the Slavs celebrated the arrival of spring, organized merry festivities and performed sacred rituals. In particular, they symbolically whipped pets with pussy willow branches so that they would give abundant offspring, and … marriageable girls, so that they could give birth to strong and healthy heirs.
There is also a version that whipping with a willow served as a kind of ritual of courting the guys for the beauty they liked, as today in Belarus and Ukraine, a girl you like is poured with water on Polival Monday.
Over time, the pagan Verbohlast transformed into the Palm Sunday of the Orthodox, but the tradition of tapping home with flexible twigs consecrated in the temple lasted until the revolution. In Russia, they believed that this would save loved ones from evil spirits, disease and poverty.
Palm Sunday celebration date
It is not difficult to calculate what date Palm Sunday falls on, since every year the twelveth holiday moves along the calendar along with Easter. It is celebrated exactly one week before the main Orthodox celebration.
To calculate when to celebrate Palm Sunday in 2020 and the following years, we retreat on the calendar grid from the date of Easter (April 19 in 2020) by 7 days back and get the Palm Sunday number (April 12 in 2020).
Of course, for Catholics, the calculations will be different, because their Easter rarely coincides with Orthodox. And the holiday itself is called the Week of Vaiya or Palm Sunday, which historically is more consistent with the events that took place 1987 years ago at the walls of Jerusalem - Palm Sunday is still more a popular name that has taken root in the former lands of the Eastern Slavs.
But in the main idea, the meaning of the holiday will be the same in both denominations. On this day, Catholics perform solemn processions around churches, sing hymns, carry lighted candles, hold festive services, and at the end they consecrate palm branches.
As for the question of what date is Palm Sunday (or rather Palm) for Catholics, it is calculated in the same way: 7 days are counted from Catholic Easter (April 12 in 2020) and the desired date is obtained (April 5).
Palm Sunday Orthodox Traditions
According to church rules, Palm Sunday celebrations begin the day before. The churches serve Great Vespers, Matins and the first hour - the All-Night Vigil, during which Orthodox parishioners, like Catholics, stand with burning candles and pre-prepared, blossoming willow twigs in their hands. You can illuminate them twice: the first time at the all-night vigil, after reading the Gospel and Psalm 50, and the second time - on Sunday, at the Liturgy of John Chrysostom.
According to the old tradition of Palm Sunday, the procession of the Cross is often performed in the morning, symbolizing the meeting of Christ by the people at the walls of Jerusalem. After the 1917 revolution, this custom remained forgotten for a long time, but in recent years it has been practiced again.
Returning home after the service, the family begins a festive dinner. Since Lent is still going on at this time, there is no room for light food (meat, eggs, milk) on the table. But in honor of the significant event, you are allowed to treat yourself to fish dishes and sip a little red wine.
An important nuance: the hostess should prepare the festive table before Palm Sunday, since customs do not recommend doing cooking, as well as cleaning, washing, washing dishes and handicrafts at this time.
However, it will hardly be possible to avoid at least minimal hassle around the house, but what cannot be done on Palm Sunday under any pretext is swearing, using obscene words and admitting evil, depressive thoughts.
In general, believers should do their best to tune themselves to the positive by thinking about God and warm communication with family members. But watching TV, playing computer games, as well as noisy feasts that flow into drunkenness, are not blessed.
However, it cannot be said that moderate fun is not on the list of what parishioners do on Palm Sunday. Both in the old days and today, this holiday is often celebrated by organizing fairs, at which craftsmen offer their customers hand-made products, song and dance circles demonstrate their art, and connoisseurs of traditions organize games and competitions, albeit not as wide as for Easter.
There is an opinion that the church does not allow baptizing children and getting married on Palm Sunday, but this is not entirely true. The ban on weddings is in effect throughout Great Lent, so you really have to wait with the consecration of the marriage union in the church. But if the young for some reason cannot postpone civil registration, they can visit the registry office, sign and even arrange a quiet celebration for those closest to them without fast meals, dances and songs.
But the ban does not apply to baptism. You just need to agree in advance with the priest, since on holidays he has enough worries and it will be difficult to organize everything at the last moment.
Palm Sunday folk customs
How did our ancestors behave when Palm Sunday was approaching? The first step was to harvest the willow a few days before the holiday, so that it could expel the buds. And they carefully watched to cut the twig only from a healthy tree, without rot and damage to the trunk. In addition, there was a belief that plants standing on the shore of a reservoir or near a cemetery should be avoided - they say that evil spirits like to rest on such, which can be brought home along with the branches.
After sprinkling with holy water, the willow was carried home and carefully kept behind the icons for a year, believing that the consecrated branches attract well-being to the house, and that family members are endowed with excellent health.
In general, in the old days, the customs of Palm Sunday were full of numerous ritual actions with this tree:
- The girls tied several twigs with a red thread and tucked them away behind icons or laid them at the head of the bed, thinking about their betrothed;
- Mothers bathed babies in water with palm buds to protect them from evil and disease;
- Housewives baked lean cookies with the addition of ground fluffy "pussies", hoping to improve the health of the household, and some of the baked goods were fed to livestock;
- They ate pussy willow buds and just like that - certainly in the amount of 9 pieces, which should have relieved a person from toothache and endowed with good luck, and ensured an early pregnancy for the "barren" woman;
- Some stuck twigs into the wall by the bed for insomnia;
- They washed their face with the infusion of pussy willow branches, brewed on Maundy Thursday, wishing to be with strength and good health all year round.
The willow left after last year's Palm Sunday was not thrown away. They let it along the river, buried it away from roads and garbage dumps, gave it to the church, put it under a young bush, or burned it, along the way bypassing all the corners of the house with a smoldering branch in order to drive out evil spirits from it. Ashes were often not thrown away, but hidden in a secluded place, hoping that this would serve as a reliable protection from fires.
Note! Signs for Palm Sunday promise: if sunny warm weather sets in on this day, a large fruit harvest can be expected.
Congratulations on Palm Sunday
As such, there is no custom to give each other symbolic gifts on the "palm holiday", as eggs are given on Easter. However, believers still often try to please their relatives and friends by presenting them handicrafts, small souvenirs and themed gifts on Palm Sunday. Their value does not matter, the main thing that is required is to share your warmth with a person, to show that he is dear to you, and to try to create in him a mood corresponding to a bright holiday.
So, you can say the simplest, but heartfelt words of congratulations on Palm Sunday and reinforce them:
- a branch consecrated in the church, if the person himself could not attend the service;
- a decorative composition of willow twigs and flowers;
- a postcard bought in a church shop or made with your own hands;
- mug, magnet, pillow with holiday symbols;
- any other item, if you know that the person would like to receive it as a gift.
Note! According to customs, on Palm Sunday, you cannot hand over things that contain a hint of aggression (for example, a set of kitchen knives can be considered a bad gift) and frivolity. Save your underwear, mischievous trinkets and funny gifts for a worldly celebration.
If you want to especially celebrate this day and your affection for a person, present him with the icon "The Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem."
If your friend is fond of folk traditions, weave a pigtail from three twigs sprinkled with holy water, twist it into a wreath, decorate with ribbons and dried flowers. It will turn out to be a good luck charm.
And, of course, poems personally written on Palm Sunday with wishes of goodness, happiness and all kinds of blessings will become an unforgettable surprise.
Palm Sunday abroad
What does Palm Sunday mean in other countries and how is it customary to celebrate it? In the states located on the territory of the former CIS, the main symbol of the holiday for the Orthodox is the same willow or, less often, the holly willow.
But for peoples located in other geographic regions, everything is different:
- in England the main plant of the day is the yew;
- in France - a young sprout of orange, which is specially expelled from the seed for the holiday and brought to the service;
- in Lithuania and Poland, preference is given to dry bouquets of ears, juniper branches and artificial flowers;
- in Italy, not surprisingly, the role of the festive tree is assigned to the olive;
- by the way, the example of the Italians for some reason followed in much more northern Switzerland, where even the holiday itself is called Olive Sunday;
- in Austria, the solemn date is symbolized by walnut shoots decorated with ribbons and sweet souvenirs;
- but in the Mediterranean and the Philippines, Sunday is literally Palm, because the leaves of date and coconut palms are brought to the temples here.
Watch the video about Palm Sunday:
When in 2020 Palm Sunday heralds Easter again, you will know exactly how to greet it. And it does not matter whether you will begin to observe all the customs of your ancestors, whether you attend a divine service, or confine yourself to home prayer and communication with people dear to you. Just try to spend the holiday with bright thoughts and be in the mood for the best, this is perhaps one of the main conditions of Palm Sunday.