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Tomorrow, 20 March 2016, is Palm Sunday. A few years ago, I posted the following article to Helium writing site, now gone …

Palm Sunday is an important celebration in the Christian calendar. It is a movable feast that is always held on the Sunday prior to Easter. The event marks Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem shortly before his trial and crucifixion. The day is usually associated with worshippers carrying blessed palm leaves or a substitute. A palm frond denotes victory. There are many different and interesting Palm Sunday customs around the world.

It is a real family day in Jordan with church services being well attended. People make crosses out of palm leaves and children take palm fronds and olive branches to church. The service starts with a procession. Later the priest uses a branch to sprinkle parishioners with holy water.

Marigolds are placed in the altar of Eastern Orthodox churches in India when ‘Hosanna’ is called out in recognition of Jesus’ arrival in Jerusalem in the lead-up to his trial and hanging. According to legend, St. Thomas the Apostle brought Christianity to India in 52 CE.

The Philippines re-enact Jesus entering Jerusalem in the form of a priest on a horse. Worshippers with palm leaves parade alongside him. Pieces of material are often placed along the path by the women. Afterwards, people attach the fronds on their doors and windows to receive Jesus and repel evil spirits.

Countries in colder climates that don’t support palm trees use branches from other species. In Latvia, one of the pussy willow species, such as the goat willow or grey willow, is used instead. Here the special day is often known as ‘Pussy Willow Sunday’. Traditionally, parents awaken children by striking a willow branch against the door, wall or furniture. In another ritual, people chase and gently slap each other with these branches. Children in Finland put on witches’ garb and ask for sweets and coins at houses in their street. In Fiji, children in white re-enact Jesus’ entrance and sing verses at service.

People in the United States celebrate Palm Sunday by playing sacred music in churches and halls. Plays are popular too. Many people make crosses out of palms and put them in their houses, shops and other businesses. Branches other than palms are commonly used in the US as palm is often unavailable in many parts.

In France and Italy, people are known to burn palm branches during prayer if a storm is approaching. At other times, palms are made into crosses, or fashioned into quite intricate designs, something that is done in Mexico too.

An interesting Palm Sunday custom in Bulgaria is for people whose names are associated with flowers to have their ‘name day’ at this time. Palm Sunday is often known as Flower Sunday. Flowers also play an important role in Palm Sunday in the United Kingdom, Germany and countries in central and eastern Europe. The flowers are blessed and interwoven into the palm leaves.

In England, France and Germany, people still place palms on graves on Palm Sunday. Country people in England leave rags at wells in the hope that the well’s spirit would maintain a nice, clean water supply for the town. The British have used all sorts of alternatives to palm branches, such as willow, boxwood, yew and daffodils. Palm from Spain is now commonly used.

In Malta, olive branches are placed on statues of a suffering Jesus during the Passion, or the time leading up to his death. A branch is often taken home as it is supposed to ward off illness.

People in parts of the Netherlands adorn crosses with bread and sweets. In other parts, residents pay tribute to their ‘Mother of Sorrows’.

Palm Sunday is a grand occasion in Spain. Processions last all week. Floats of up to five tons supported by dozens or even hundreds of people carry images of a suffering Jesus. Women wearing black clothes and holding candles follow priests in purple gowns and hoods. Spain has one of the world’s largest palm groves, with over 11,000 trees. As Palm Sunday approaches, fronds are covered from the sun to reduce their color and fashioned into various forms. People are supposed to don a new garment on Palm Sunday.

If Spain has the largest palm grove, Poland has the biggest palm trees. Contests are held on Palm Sunday for the largest palm. Some are over 100 feet or 30 meters in height, although it should be pointed out that these trees are artificial.