What do we celebrate on Palm Sunday?
Although these days Palm Sunday has lost many of its followers, as society has become more secular, just a few decades ago it was very common to see whole families in their Sunday best blessing woven palm leaves and laurel bouquets In fact this festival derives from the art of making ornamental palm leaves, a traditional craft now in decline. But why did people used to celebrate Palm Sunday so much? And what do palm leaves and branches have to do with final days in Jesus’ life?
In Christianity, Palm Sunday recalls the moment Jesus Christ entered Jerusalem with his disciples. It was the last time that Jesus went to Jerusalem and, according to the Bible, that took place at the start of the last week of his life, a few days before the Last Supper. So this festival marks the Passion narrative. Despite the fact that the four Evangelists refer to the scene, they don’t agree on the day. According to Mark and John it was Sunday, Mathew says it was Monday and Luke doesn’t mention a day.
One thing they do all agree on is the joy with which Jesus was received. They describe how the enthusiastic crowds welcomed him with laurel branches, olive branches and palm leaves, all very common in Jerusalem. And it is to recall that scene that, on Palm Sunday, parishioners go to church with palm leaves and laurel branches which are blessed during the Mass where this part of the Bible is read. In some homes it is still traditional to hang the blessed palm leaf on the balcony and leave it there all year, as it is believed that it gives protection and brings good luck.
The Bible explains the Jesus came from the village of Bethany mounted on a donkey and arrived in Jerusalem at the height of the Passover celebrations on Easter Thursday. This is one of the biggest festivals on the Hebrew calendar. It lasts seven days and recalls the Jews’ exodus from Egypt in 1250 BC. Unfortunately, this triumphal welcome did not please the authorities and increased the tension between Jesus and the established powers even further.