Palm Weaving Holds Profound Significance during Palm Sunday

Palm Sunday marks the sixth and final Sunday of Lent and the beginning of Holy Week, celebrating Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, where crowds shouted “Hosanna” and threw down their cloaks and palms on the path before Him. To commemorate this event, palms are solemnly blessed and distributed to parishioners to hold during the reading of the Passion on Palm Sunday. The celebrant will often carry a richly decorated palm in procession.

The ancient civilizations of Greece, Rome, Assyria, and Egypt associated palm branches with victory, jubilation, and sacredness. Palms were mentioned in both the Old and New Testaments, to make booths for the feast of Tabernacles, and as symbols of celebration.

Skilled palm weavers from our Diocese joined me in teaching members of Holy Rosary Parish, Reading; Sacred Heart Parish, West Reading; and members of other parishes to craft processional palms for their homes and parishes. They embarked on an enriching journey into the intricate art of palm weaving, all while delving into the significance of Palm Sunday. Most Bishop Alfred A. Schlert received one of these woven palms for the procession at the Cathedral of St. Catharine of Siena, Allentown, on Palm Sunday.

Palm weaving, an ancient European tradition, holds profound significance on this day, symbolizing Jesus’ journey and victory. This art reflects diverse family traditions and cultural heritage, dating back to ancient times. Palm weavers meticulously craft decorative palms – from intricate cones to braids and delicate rosebuds. Each creation exemplifies the weaver’s artistry and devotion.

Interestingly, the practice of palm weaving exhibits regional variations and adaptations. While my family predominantly employs palm fronds, in my Italian and Slovak roots, we use olive tree branches, and in Eastern Europe, flowers and pussy willows are often incorporated into palm weaving, adding a distinct touch to the tradition.

In Sicily, Palm Sunday assumes profound cultural significance. Termed "La Domenica Delle Palme," this day is steeped in tradition, with palm weavers, known as "parmaru" in Sicilian, assuming central roles. The abundance of palm trees in southern Italy fosters this tradition, with artisans meticulously crafting palms for Mass ceremonies, intertwining religious observance with cultural heritage.

However, palm branches can be difficult to source throughout the Christian world. Because of this shortage, branches from other trees and bushes have been substituted for the Palm Sunday Mass. Such substitutes have included spruce, olive, and box elders. In Slovakia and other Slavic nations, the pussy willow is used.

The art of palm weaving sadly faces gradual decline in many communities, but our Italian parishioners at Holy Rosary, Reading are committed to preserving and transmitting their skills to future generations, not only in Reading, but throughout the Diocese. Documenting the techniques and patterns, it was imperative to share this knowledge and invite others to embrace this ancient craft and perpetuate its legacy.

Palms from Palm Sunday are blessed Sacramentals which must be treated with reverence and disposed of properly. Typically, parishioners take them home and display them throughout the year, and the dried-out palms are then returned to the church to be burned for ashes for the following Ash Wednesday. If this is not possible, they can be burned at home or buried in the yard.

The weaving of the palms should be a time of prayer for both living and deceased relatives, as well as for those who have no one else to pray for them. It is a sacred tradition that unites families across generations. The simple palm branch serves as a reminder of God's power to bring about transformation in our lives. He can turn blindness into sight, sickness into health, death into life, and a Good Friday into an Easter Sunday. The victory over death—this is the victory symbolized by the palms.

Featured image by Ed Koskey: Bishop Alfred Schlert waves toward the pews as he walks during the Recessional.

Additional images: Members of Holy Rosary Parish, Reading; Sacred Heart Parish, West Reading; and members of other parishes come together to craft processional palms for their homes and parishes with the help of Fr. John A. Hutta and Monsignor Joseph A. Desantis, Pastor of Holy Rosary Parish, Reading and Sacred Heart Parish, West Reading.


Mass Livestream