Palm Sunday customs
The custom of blessing Easter palms dates back to the Middle Ages. Palms were a symbol of resurrection, they played an important role, ensuring good crops, a long life, and even... a good death. Sticking palm branches into the roof of a house or farm buildings guaranteed protection from lightning strikes or fire.
Traditional palms were made of willow twigs with catkins – in unfavourable weather conditions, if the spring did not come quickly, they were picked earlier and put into water, so that the buds would shoot. The twigs of currants or raspberries, which were picked on Ash Wednesday and kept in water until Palm Sunday, were treated similarly.
The catkins also played an important role in a series of rituals that had to be performed using a palm tree. To protect against a sore throat in the coming year, it was necessary to eat a catkin...
However, this is not the end – according to the custom, fragments of a palm tree had to be distributed all over the house. Some of the twigs were used to make crosses, which were stuck into the ground at the four corners of a field. This action was to effectively deter rodents and ensure good crops.
The vast array of uses offered by the palm tree meant that affluent residents who kept considerable riches or had become wealthy quickly had to fulfil their duty and get palms which, with every passing year, were increasingly bigger. Over time, their size became an indicator of a person’s social position. Although the customs of exposing the cattle to the fumes of incense or protecting the field using fragments of palms have disappeared, the practice of competing against other people in terms of the size of their palms is still alive and well. Competitions are organized in the spirit of this rivalry, among which the one in Lipnica Wielka is the best known.
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Photograph “Selling palms to be consecrated at St. Mary’s Church in Kraków” by Leopold Węgrzynowicz
Photograph “Portrait of two boys” by Ignacy Krieger
Sculpture “Jesus Christ Sitting on the Palm Sunday Donkey”