Palm Sunday is a religious holiday that celebrates Jesus’s parading through Jerusalem on a donkey, surrounded by a crowd holding palm leaves. The Sunday before Easter, it is the start of Holy Week.
The holiday is commonly celebrated with a special Sunday religious service, feasting, and community events held by churches. Some churches even offer attendants palm branches to symbolically wave.
Palm Sunday is described by all four canonical Gospels. They state that Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey on a street covered with the crowd’s cloaks and palm branches. Jesus’s riding in on a donkey is supposed to illustrate his humble nature.
The story contains heavy symbolism. The donkey is often associated with peace and the laying of cloaks and palm branches are signs of respect. In roman culture, the palm branch is associated with victory.
Some churches refer to Palm Sunday as the “Entry of the Lord into Jerusalem.” The feast is considered in the Twelve Great Feasts celebrated by some religions. Some churches that have difficulty obtaining palm branches use olive branches or willows instead. Observers often take these branches home to commemorate the occasion and act as a blessing. Many fronds are blessed prior to the service. Some churches hold a procession of children, holding palm fronds, through the church. Other celebrations include:
- A donkey walks in Russia, a recreation of the 16-17th-century practice of a leader riding around the town on a donkey.
- In Finland, children dress as Easter Witches and knock on door for candy.
- Bulgarians celebrate “name day” on Palm Sunday for every person having a flower-related name.
- In India, churches layer the church’s floor with flowers during readings of the Palm Sunday story.
- Italians place palm leaves and olive branches over doorways.
- The Netherlands feature an oil lamp procession and crosses decorated with candy.
- In Spain, celebrators flock to the largest European palm grove in Elche, where the palm trees are covered and dried so that they can be decorated and braided.
- Poland hosts artificial palm competitions, which are built from willow.