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Palm Sunday, also called Passion Sunday, is a day revered by many Christian groups, including Catholics, Lutherans, Methodists, and Presbyterians. It marks the start of the Christian Holy Week, or the week leading up to Easter Sunday. The readings from the Bible typically tell of Jesus' ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, ending with his crucifixion on the Cross. For many Christians, it is both a glorious day and a deeply sad day. The glory comes from the Biblical readings that told of the crowds of people who treated Jesus as their Messiah, while the sadness comes from the betrayal, humiliation, and pain that Jesus experienced before he died.
Some reports indicate that Palm Sunday has been celebrated since the 300s. Even Latin scripture books have mentioned the practice of Palm Sunday, as early as the 600-700s. Many Christians across the globe go to church and prepare themselves for Holy Week on this day. While there may be some discrepancies between the various religions, such as the color of robes that the priest may wear, there are also many similarities.
In many religions and churches, Palm Sunday begins with a blessing of the palms, often outside the church. After the palms are blessed, the congregation will slowly and solemnly return inside the church. At that time, the Mass or Services will continue with readings telling the story of the exultant ride that Jesus took into the city of Jerusalem, when the crowds placed palms on the ground before him, calling him their Messiah. The Biblical reading often continues on to tell the story of Jesus' journey to the Cross, where he would eventually die five days later.
In some churches, the Biblical readings during Palm Sunday are read by the head of the church alone. In some Catholic churches, the readings are enacted, some even giving the congregation a role. In those cases, the congregation often reads the role of the crowd, while the priest reads the role of Jesus, and another church figure plays the role of Pontius Pilate.
After the Mass or Service, the congregation is usually allowed to bring their palms home with them. Since they have been blessed, they are typically placed in a safe location, out of harm's way. Many people also shape their palms into crosses or weave them into crowns. These crosses or crowns are often placed on crosses in the home or on religious pictures.
Different countries have different names for Palm Sunday, but they all celebrate the same Biblical story. In England, it is called Branch Sunday, while in Greece it is called Lazarus Sunday. In many countries, such as the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and Australia, people take off work to spend time preparing for the religious week ahead.
At my church (and at other churches I know of), the palms are brought in by the children in the church. They usually come down the aisle during the first hymn (something like "Hosanna, loud Hosanna") and place the palm leaves on the altar railing.
I know the Bible mentions the children waving the palm leaves, so I'm sure that's where the tradition comes from. That's how every church I've attended does it. The children bring the palms into the sanctuary.
One church tradition is to keep the palms, burn them and then save the ashes for use for the next year's Ash Wednesday service, which begins the season of Lent.
Palm Sunday is always sort of a split-personality kind of day. It begins with joy, but then the tone becomes more somber. We know how the week is going to end. There's a sense of foreboding.
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