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October 26, 2020

Palm Sunday – The holiday celebrating Lord’s Entry into Jerusalem

Orthodox Christians celebrate this weekend the Palm Sunday, the holiday celebrated one week before Easter, marks Jesus Christ’s triumphant entry into Jerusalem.The crowds welcomed Jesus with fig and olive branches as a sign of victory against death after the resurrection of Lazarus. Year by year, this sign is the forerunning day of Holy Week, renews the soul, smoothes the paths between people, reveals their kindness and generosity. The Palm Sunday pilgrimage heralds the link between the Mystery of the Cross and The Lord’s Entry into the earthly Jerusalem, in order to suffer “for us, the people, and for our redemption”, and The Lord’s entry into the heavenly Jerusalem to give us “eternal life and joy”. Therefore, on Palm Sunday, the Christian Orthodox believers hold in their hands  willow or catkin branches hallowed during the morning religious service, a symbol of the joy with which the people of Jerusalem welcomed The Saviour.Tradition says that on the eve of Palm Sunday, girls performed a complex ritual, very much like carols, dedicated to Lazar or Lazarica, the deity of vegetation. The custom is still in place in southern Romania, Muntenia and Dobrogea respectively.  One of the girls participating in the ritual, Lazarita, is dressed as a bride and, together with other village girls, goes from door to door about the village and tells the people who invite them in Lazar’s drama amid a simple song, how he left home shepherding his sheep, his climb up the tree, the search for him and how his sisters brought his corpse home, washed him, dressed him in walnut leaves and threw the water under the walnut trees.The custom is rooted in the Thracians glorifying Dionysos in early spring, a custom tightly linked to the Greeks’ celebration of Adonis and Aphroditis, Phrygians’ Attis and Egyptians’ Osiris, where the ritual was rooted in the violent death of the god, the loud group mourning, and, eventually, his resurrection, accompanied by the burst of vegetation, to the joy of participant corteges.         According to this scenario, typical for this annual and seasonal renewal, the pre-Easter holiday of Palm Sunday came next. “Flora”, the Roman goddess of flowers, in whose honour the spring celebrations were held, had become well known in the Roman Dacia. On that holiday, which marked the beginning of a new life cycle, the natural renewal brought by the return of spring, the Romans replaced their white clothes with some vividly coloured ones, partied, sang and drank the nectar of Bacchus amid plenty of flowers.The holiday is also linked to a string of popular traditions worshiping the dead: alms, sticking willow branches into graves, cleaning and refurbishing the graves, many of which have lasted to this day. After the Sunday church service, the hallowed willow branches – symbols of spring vegetation – are brought home and children are brushed with them to grow up healthy and handsome. They will then adorn the icons in homes, house gates and beams or stored in a clean space for later use in the homestead. They can even be planted in the garden, since they are said to heal the sick cattle and help bring rich crops. Those that adorn the icons are kept all year long and used as a cure against the evils that could strike the home and the family. The willow and catkin branches can also be hung around the crosses at the graves of the dear dead ones.There is a popular belief that the Virgin Mary herself blessed the willow, after it turned into a footbridge upon which She crossed a river. Also on Palm Sunday, in some Romanian regions, the string of the March amulet is put up in a blooming tree, alongside the clothes and dowry of marriage-ready girls. Given this being a holiday marking nature renewal, it also borrows its meaning to elements of everyday life. In some parts of the country, girls put basil under their pillows to become more beautiful and healthier, and more attractive too so that they could marry during the year.In the past, Palm Sunday was also an occasion for pagan village customs, a few of which survived to this day. At midnight, on Palm Sunday, girls boiled water and basil, along with threads from the small tassels of a kerchief stolen from the burial of a virgin. Then, they washed their hair in that water, and then threw it at the root of a fruit tree, in the hope they will help it grow. In Muntenia, on the other hand, people avoid to wash their hair this day, so it does not turn white like the trees which cover themselves in white flowers. According to another belief, those who swallow three whole catkins on the Palm Sunday will not suffer from sore throat for the rest of the year. Another rural belief says that burning catkins indoors will protect the house from lightning, during storms. Even today, there are villages in the Ialomita County that keep the tradition of children going from house to house, singing carols and wishing well to their hosts. Tradition says that the pure voices of children tell the story of Jesus being greeted with olive tree branches by the cheering inhabitants of Jerusalem – the same people that will crucify Him just one week later. For their songs, children receive eggs which they will boil and paint for Easter.In Banat and Transylvania, virgins used to place a clean shirt and a mirror under the branches of an engrafted pear tree. After the sunrise, they would recover the two items, which were very valuable for health and love spells. In Bucovina, the Palm Sunday is also known as the Sunday of Stake-people and represents a bridge between “the holy 40 days” and the Holy Week.On the Palm Sunday, it is forbidden to work and villagers bake wheat bread adorned with crosses, which they give to the poor. In some regions, people pick various herbs that will be used for painting the eggs for Easter. Tradition says that the weather will be the same on Easter as on the Palm Day. All those who bear the name of a flower celebrate their name day on the Palm Sunday.In the old times, Palm Sunday marked the beginning of the Holy Week, then called the Easter Week. Because of this, it was also called the Sunday of Catechumens (or baptism candidates), because that day catechumens went in procession to the bishop, asking him to allow them to be baptised. This was also called the Sunday of Pardons, because emperors used to pardon convicts this day. The evening of the Palm Sunday is the starting moment of the Holy Week, which will culminate with the Holy Thursday – the day of the Last Supper – and the Good Friday – the day when Jesus Christ was crucified.

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