Palm Sunday is the Sunday before Easter and begins Passion Week. It is the day that Christians celebrate Jesus' "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem, an event recorded in Matthew 21:1-11, Mark 11:1-11, Luke 19:28-44, and John 12:12-19. On that day, as Jesus and His disciples travelled toward Jerusalem, Jesus sent two disciples ahead to locate a donkey. They returned with the donkey and spread their cloaks on it, and then Jesus rode into Jerusalem on the donkey. When He did, crowds gathered, spreading their clothes and branches (John specifies palm branches) on the ground and shouting, "Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!" (John 12:13). "Hosanna" is a term of praise that also carries with it a cry for salvation or help. Making a path with garments or branches was a customary way of honoring a person (2 Kings 9:13), similar to laying out a red carpet in modern times. Palm branches were seen as symbolic of victory. Interestingly, in ancient Egypt palm branches were used in funeral processions to represent eternal life. In Eastern tradition a donkey symbolizes coming in peace; it is used in place of a war horse to make the distinction. In essence, the people were praising Jesus and asking Him to be their Messiah, though likely in a political context rather than in a spiritual context. Sadly, less than a week later, the same people shouting "Hosanna" would shout "Crucify him" (John 19:6).
Today, many churches celebrate Palm Sunday with reenactments of the triumphal entry. Catholic churches often bless palm branches with holy water and then distribute them to congregants. These palm branches are then saved for use the following Ash Wednesday. In regions where palm branches are not readily available, branches of other trees are used.
Some areas have developed rather interesting traditions related to Palm Sunday. In Finland children dress up as Easter witches and go door-to-door collecting candy and coins. In Latvia Palm Sunday is called "Pussy Willow Sunday" (because pussy willows, rather than palms, are used), and children are traditionally awoken with a swipe of a willow. In the Netherlands celebrants decorate crosses with candy and bread in the shape of a rooster. In the Philippines, special aprons are made for use in elaborate reenactments. Palm leaf pieces are later given to roosters for cock fighting. In Poland competitions for the largest or most beautiful palm branches are common. Also common in many places is braiding the palm branches into a cross shape or some other, more elaborate shape.
Revelation 7:9-10 is a beautiful complement to what we celebrate when remembering Jesus' triumphal entry: "After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" Indeed, Jesus is the one capable of saving us. He is our Messiah, Prince of Peace, and also King of Kings.
Palm Sunday Calendar
2022 — April 10
2023 — April 2
2024 — March 24
2025 — April 13
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