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One of the most popular Christian holidays is Palm Sunday. This annual Sunday holiday commemorates Jesus Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem before his crucifixion, where his followers honored him with palm branches.
Here you’ll learn all you need to know about what Palm Sunday is and why it’s important to Christians.
What’s Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday, distinct from Passion Sunday which is observed on the fifth Sunday of Lent, is a Christian tradition that occurs on the first day of the Holy Week, which is also the Sunday before Easter. Its objective is to commemorate Jesus’s last arrival to Jerusalem, where his believers received him with palm branches to proclaim him as the Messiah.
Many Churches honor this tradition by blessing the palms, which are often dried leaves from palms or branches from local trees. They also participate in the procession of palms, where they walk in a group with palms blessed at the church, going around the church or from one church to another.
There are records of this tradition being performed in Jerusalem during the end of the 4th century. It expanded to other regions and was performed from the 8th century in Europe.
The ceremony of the blessing of the palms was extremely elaborate during the Middle Ages. It usually had the procession of palms start in one church with the palms, then they would go to another church to have the palms blessed, and subsequently go back to the original church to sing the liturgy.
Origins of Palm Sunday
Christians celebrate this holiday to memorialize the last time Jesus arrived in Jerusalem riding a donkey to be part of the Passover, which is a Jewish holiday. When he arrived, a large group of people greeted him, cheering and holding palm branches.
Among the cheering, people proclaimed him the King, and also the Messiah of God, saying “Blessed the King of Israel,” and “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” aside from other praises.
As they praised Jesus Christ, this group of people put their palm branches and their coats on the ground when Jesus passed by them while riding the donkey. This story appears in some passages of the Bible, where you can find background and insight into the importance of this commemoration.
Symbolism of Palms and Laying Down Coats
Laying down their own coats and palm branches meant that they were treating Jesus Christ as they would a king. In a way, this means his followers saw him as their king and wanted him to bring down the Romans that ruled over Jerusalem.
This interpretation is the most popular because when a king or ruler entered a city or town, people would go out of their way to lay down a carpet made of coats and branches to welcome them to the city. This is where the use of the red carpet for celebrities or important people comes from.
Symbols of Palm Sunday
Palm Sunday’s main symbol gives the name to the festivity. The palm branch symbolizes victory and triumph. This significance originated thousands of years ago in the Mediterranean world and Mesopotamia.
Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week and all the events that would end the earthly life of the Messiah. In this sense, the palm branches and the whole ritual included are a rendition of the holiness of Christ before his death.
As the son of God, Christ was beyond earthly kings and greed. Still, his high profile caused those in charge to go after him. Thus, the palm branches also symbolize the greatness of Christ and how loved he was by the people.
How Do Christians Celebrate Palm Sunday?
Nowadays, Palm Sunday is celebrated with a liturgy that begins with the blessing and the procession of palms. However, Christians also believe that the lengthy reading of the Passion by the priest and congregation is as important as the first two.
People also take the blessed palms with them back home to use as sacred signs of the sacraments. They also burn the blessed palms for Ash Wednesday the following year to make the ash needed to complete the ceremony.
Protestant Churches’ observance of Palm Sunday varies, with many holding special services and some distributing palms.
Christianity has beautiful traditions that commemorate meaningful events from its history. Palm Sunday is one of the many holidays of the holy week, the preparation for Jesus’ journey before his crucifixion and resurrection.