Let’s spend a bit of time exploring Palm Sunday. A few brief facts:

  • It is the final Sunday before Easter and is therefore a moveable feast day, meaning that its date changes each year due to being tied to when Easter falls; it will be celebrated on March 29, 2015;
  • It marks the beginning of Holy Week;
  • Red is the liturgical color of Palm Sunday;
  • Since it falls on a Sunday, it is always obligatory.

It is a recognizable feast day because of the beautiful palms for palm Sunday, but the reason for its significance may not be well known.

Palm Sunday celebrates Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem on the Sunday before his crucifixion. This event was noted in each of the four gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Jesus’ purpose of riding into Jerusalem on that day was to make public his claim to be Messiah and to fulfill the prophecy laid forth in the Old Testament. As he entered Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey, the people spread their cloaks and palms from the tree on his path. The news of his arrival was causing quite a commotion, especially since news of him raising Lazarus from the dead was spreading throughout the city. The people of Jerusalem praised him - but for strikingly different reasons. Some people welcomed him as Christ, the Son of God, and a spiritual savior. Others welcomed him as a deliverer or king who would lead them in a revolt against the Romans. When Jesus did not do this, they became angered and, within a few days, would call for his crucifixion.

There is some strong symbolism and traditions at play in this event. The donkey is a humble animal that was considered peaceful (as opposed to the horse, used in war), so it is both a prophetic and symbolic creature. The palms for Palm Sunday obviously represent the palms used by the people of Jerusalem. The practice of laying palms was quite common at the time. It was a sign of victory in Roman culture, but the Bible also mentions palms as representative of martyrs triumph in death over evil. Palms are also a symbol of rejoicing in Jewish culture.

Roman Catholics observe Palm Sunday with some sort of processions. The palms are blessed with holy water and carried through the church by the clergy, choir, or entire congregation. Each congregant can take a palm, which can be worn on the lapel for the remainder of the day or simply taken home and displayed or stored. Putting the palm in a vase with dried or artificial flowers is a decorative and meaningful option. Many people also place them in their car. The sun will easily dry any palms. Leftover palms that are not taken by congregants are burned into ashes for use during the next Ash Wednesday service.

Palms for Palm Sunday are often African or Mediterranean in origin and can be purchased at church supplies stores.