By Wendy Hughes

 

Girls enjoying Palm Sunday in Krakow

As a child growing up in Wales the Sunday before Easter, Palm Sunday, was always celebrated by taking flowers and placing on my father’s grave. In Wales we called in ‘Sul y Blodau, or flowering Sunday, and although my father died when I was only five I still have vivid memories of going for walks with him and picking a bunch of wild flowers for my mother.  After he died suddenly it seem very special to me to proudly carry a bunch of flowers to place on ‘daddy’s garden’ as I called it

So what is so special about Palm Sunday at the start of Holy Week, which is often marked with services each day?  When Jesus entered Jerusalem, he made a demonstration of protest in the temple, which led on an argument with the authorities, resulting in his execution within the week. In many Catholic churches on Palm Sunday, the service includes a procession of the faithful carrying palms, representing the palm branches the crowd scattered in front of Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem, but the difficulty of obtaining palms in some unfavourable climates led to their substitution with branches of native trees, such as box, olive, willow, and yew. Therefore Palm Sunday is often named after these substitute trees, as in Yew Sunday, or by the general term Branch Sunday.

Palm Sunday in Poland

One of these countries that have no native palm trees is Poland, which is known as Niedziela Palmowa , and many of the Polish towns and villages (the best known are Lipnica Murowana in Lesser Poland and Lyse) organize artificial palm competitions. The biggest of those reach above 30 meters in length; for example, and in fact highest palm was 33.39 metres. Others bring posies made of pussy willows, the first buds to appear in Poland, and a plant considered to love life because it grows in the worst conditions.  Whereas in other regions of Poland, Easter Palms known as Palma Wielkanocna or Palemka Wielkanocna or palemki (little palms), are made of branches of  spruce, boxwood, and yew. Since flowers are not yet in bloom, artificial one are made from tissue and crepe paper and fastened to the branch. Sometimes, flowers that have been dried from the previous summer are attached with ribbons that can be as high as a 12-story building!

Every year, palm competitions take place throughout Poland, and the two most famous are held in Łyse in the Kurpie region, and in the village of Lipnica Murowana, southwest of Krakòw. The village of Łyse holds a contest for the tallest and most beautiful palm and people from all over the region work hard for the forty days of Lent to make their entries. The palms in Lipnica Murowana are so tall, they cannot be carried upright and are transported to the main square or churchyard by several men who hoist them up so they stand on end.  In Wilno (now in Lithuania), they take the form of slender bouquet sticks known as wałki in varying heights and are decorated with dried flowers, and spikes of grasses and mosses.

A Palm in Lyse Poland

The contests are very competitive with specific rules — no nails or other metal items can be used in the making the palms, and only wood, willow, reeds, green branches and paper flowers allowed. Wires, ropes, and lines from synthetic materials are also forbidden. In order to qualify for the contest, the palm has to stand upright without breaking and has to be raised with no help from machines – just men in trees guiding it

If Palm Sunday occurs early in late March or early April people cut the branches of pussy willows and other fruit traditionally on Ash Wednesday. Then the branches are placed in vases with water to grow inside the warm room until they start budding green.

children carrying palms to church

In southern Poland, (particularly in the Sącz and Rzeszów areas bits of palm or palm crosses, along with blessed eggs are placed or buried in the fields and garden to bless and defend them from hail and pests and although the blessed palms have a religious significance, they are placed over a sacred image or above the front door to protect against fire and all evil.

In the village of Tokarnia near Myślenice and other areas, a custom known as Jezus Palmowy or Jezus Lipowy takes place.  A figure of Christ riding a donkey is placed in a cart and pulled through the main square in a procession. This tradition, which started in the 15th century, was banned by church authorities in 1781 because it had turned into a raucous affair, but it is slowly returning to its place of honour in Palm

Palm Sunday celebrations in Poland

Another tradition of Easter is puchery or pucheroki and some villages near Krakow (Zielonki, Bibice) are famous for this.  The people choose not only the best dressed boy with the tallest cap but also the one who was the best and most convincing singer.

In the past there was also a tradition where the villagers ‘beat’ each other with the palms on the way home after the mass, but this was not as a punishment but rather for good wishes. As they explained : ‘Ja nie bije, palma bije… (I am not beating, the palm is beating…)’

Palm Sunday in Lyse -north east Poland – girl dressed in a Kurpie folk dress

And finally…. since the palms are blessed in the church they are stored with a great care at homes, usually near the holy pictures to protect from any misfortunes people and animals. They are also kept near the windows during the thunderstorms or hails or tucked into beehives so that the bees will produce good honey. In the past the pussy willows (Polish: bazie) were swallowed by members of family to protect from the throat diseases or headaches, and powdered pussy willows were also used as a medicine.