On Palm Sunday, especially in the south of Germany and Austria, there is a tradition that has its origins in the 9th century. Colorful processions of clergy and laity, often accompanied by a donkey, carry Palmbuschen, Palm Bouquets, while praying, singing hymns and walking through the streets to the church where their bouquets will be blessed.
It is the sixth and final Sunday of Lent, last before Easter, and palm symbolizes the Christian belief that its branches were strewn before Jesus as made his entry into Jerusalem. Real palms are difficult to find in most of Europe, so as it is the beginning of spring pussy-willow, Palmkaetzchen, is used as an alternative, while Palm Bouquets range from small for children to some of 3 meters, ten feet, or more.
Each region has a different style and size of Palmbuschen, but keeping to the seven last words attributed to Jesus as he hung on the cross traditionally they were made from seven different things grown in nature:
Pussy-willow, Box, Juniper, Holly, Yew, Cedar and Red Juniper for example.
These are then bound with supple strands of willow, mounted on either a woven stick or a hazel branch and decorated with colored wood shavings, flowers and ribbons.
Once they have been blessed Palmbuschen can be kept in the house, by the altar or crucifix if the home has either of these, or as they were believed to bring protection from illness and lightning perhaps mounted near the main door or hung out on a terrace.
There they remain until Ash Wednesday when they are taken back to the church, burned, and their ash used to make a cross on the forehead.
Or alternatively they are added to one of the traditional Easter Fires on the Saturday night or Easter Sunday, together with Christmas trees saved from Weihnachten.
For generations if the palm bouquet was to kept until the next Easter ceremonial rites were followed, all designed for protection and a form of blessing, and although the beliefs behind these customs may have lost meaning over the years they continue to remain favorite seasonal traditions in many families:
As the first heavy storm with thunder and lightning takes place some of the twigs are taken from the bunch and burnt
Palmbuschen are carried around homes from room to room
The palm bouquets are carried while circling outside of the home three times
Individual pussy-willow twigs fed to cattle
Bunches left in the stables and other farm buildings
Large Palmbuschen placed in fields
Rituals believed to protect from lightning strikes, hail stones, ill health, bad luck and fire among other things.
Including bringing about a good harvest and a problem free time with farm stock.
Here are DIY instructions so you can make your own Palm Bouquet
Often the first Easter decoration put up in a German home.
Colored ribbons: The traditional colors always included in a "Christian" palm bouquet are Lilac, Black, Yellow and Orange.
Black and Lilac for mourning and sorrow
Orange and Yellow for joy at the resurrection
Then there is Red for the blood of Christ
White for his innocence
But as an Easter decoration the choice is yours, just use whatever colors you want.
From Nature: Willow branches including Pussy-willow, pieces of different trees and bushes such as Box, Juniper, Holly, Ivy, Yew, Cedar, Red Juniper, some of which must be evergreen and there should be seven different varieties, bunches of Herbs, Plants and Flowers
And again there are meanings and often a tie to herbal medicine with the trees and herbs used......
With the trees: Box - a symbol of life, Ivy – eternity and faithfulness, Hazel – wisdom and fertility, Larch – a holy tree and one which serves as a protecting spirit between the worlds, the Pussy-willow – a sign of resurrection and new beginnings, Juniper – a giver of life, while Oak leaves are a sign of passing years. That is if any are to be found so early in the year.
Traditionally the twigs and branches were be cut on Ash Wednesday, left in water during Lent and made into Palmbuschen on the Saturday before Palm Sunday, this meant their leaves would be further ahead than those that had been left to nature.
Flowers: Whatever spring flowers are already in bud or bloom.
Colored Wood Shavings: These are traditionally used for many things and so easily found in regions where Palmbuschen are made, but not so easily available elsewhere so extra ribbons or crepe paper streamers will fill the gap perfectly.
Colored or decorated Eggs are also used, especially by children who probably created these masterpieces themselves
Flower wire, cord and string
Take the Herbs, Twigs and Plants and bind them into in small bunches. Choose a mixture or everything the same, whatever appeals, just make sure each bunch has differing heights and include a little Pussy-willow.
Bind several of these individual bunches together.
Repeat until you think you have enough to make a Palm Bouquet of the size you have in mind.
Put all the bunches together and bind them tightly with wire
Attach with wire to a stick, an old broom handle for example, or a branch, hazel is traditional, and cover this by binding with willow twigs. These bind easily, cover well and look attractive.
Decorate your Palmbuschen with colored ribbons, interweave with flowers and add wood shavings if you have managed to find some.
It used to be a "Father and Son" tradition, privileged "Men's Work", but not these days, so have fun making and enjoying your "Palmbuschen".
Images: Photo of Prien, Bavaria Palm Sunday by Anton Hoetzelsperger via ganz-munchen.de - A small bound bunch of twigs and leaves and making Palmbuschen......Both courtesy Freilicht Museum, Oberbayern
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