Unless you’ve been spending time in a rabbit hole recently, you’re well aware that Easter Sunday is quickly approaching. But before we even get to the annual egg hunt, the unbelievable brunch spread, and of course, all the delicious desserts, there is an entire event Christians celebrate before Easter called Holy Week. The—very important—kick-off of these seven days is known as Palm Sunday.
Similarly to how Easter does not have a set date, the exact day of Palm Sunday also changes year-to-year. For Western Christianity, both of these ever changing dates coincide with the lunar calendar. Easter will always fall on the first Sunday after the first full moon that happens after March 21, which is April 21 this year. This gives Easter a wide range of dates—from March 22 to April 25. Palm Sunday is always the week before Easter, and this year, that is April 14.
What is Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday is part of the Christian religious observance of Lent, which begins on Ash Wednesday and honors the 40 days Jesus went into the desert to pray.
Palm Sunday marks the day Jesus returned to Jerusalem. He rode into the city on a donkey, which symbolized that he was a king who came in peace. His faithful placed palm leaves in front of his path. In placing the palm leaves in front of Jesus, his believers demonstrated they accepted him as their redeemer.
Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week, in which Jesus was betrayed, tried, and crucified.
How is Palm Sunday celebrated?
Every culture and religion has their own traditions for Palm Sunday. For Catholics, palm leaves are typically given to parishioners prior to the start of mass. Many believers save, dry, and then braid the palm leaves. The braided leaves are placed on a crucifix on display in their home and then replaced the following year. The church also saves the palms and burns them in the following year to create the ashes used on Ash Wednesday.
Easter is the most important religious holiday in some Catholic countries such as France, Italy, and Spain. Palm Sunday marks the beginning of celebrations, and the faithful mark the occasion by wearing long robes and participating in candle-carrying processions.
Where do the palms come from?
Many Protestant churches in the U.S. also observe the holiday with palms. That means millions of palm leaves are needed for the holidays.
In the U.S., there are palm tree farms devoted to preparing for the event. Churches work with suppliers to have the fresh, trimmed palms delivered right before the holiday. Some suppliers also handle burning the palms into ashes if the church is unable to do so.
Unlike Christmas tree farms, palm tree farms do not cut down the tree. The farms are typically located in warm weather climates such as Florida and Texas.
What is the history of Palm Sunday?
Early Christians did not celebrate Easter. When they began marking Easter, they tied the celebration date to Passover because Jesus died during the holiday. This changed in the fourth century when Christian leaders began using the lunar calendar to set the holiday.