There are many traditions surrounding Palm Sunday, and especially in the south of Germany and Austria one has origins that go back to the 10th century.
It is the colorful processions of clergy and laity, often accompanied by a donkey, who walk through the streets praying, singing hymns and carrying "Palmbuschen", Palm Bouquets, on their way to church where the bouquets will be blessed.
Palmsonntag is the sixth and final Sunday of Lent, the last before Easter, and palm symbolizes the Christian belief that its branches were strewn before Jesus as he 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, Palmkätzchen, is used as an alternative, and the Palm Bouquets range from small for children to some of three meters, ten feet, or more.
Every region has a different style and size of Palmbuschen, but in keeping to the seven last words attributed to Jesus as he hung on the cross, they are made from seven different things grown in nature:
Pussy-willow, Box, Juniper, Holly, Yew, Cedar and Red Juniper for example.
These are 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.
After a "blessing" Palmbuschen can be kept in the house, by the altar or crucifix if the home has either of these, or because they were believed to bring protection from illness and lightning they are often mounted near the main door or hung out on a terrace.
There they remain for a year until Ash Wednesday, when they are taken back to the church, burned, and their ash used to make a cross on the forehead.
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 there were ceremonial rites followed for any palm bouquet that was kept until the following Easter. These were designed for protection and as a form of blessing, and continue to remain favorite seasonal traditions in many families although the beliefs behind these customs may have lost meaning over the years:
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 as a "protection" in 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 - which are often the first Easter decoration put up in a German home.
Colored ribbons: The traditional colors 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 used for many things and 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, and in whatever quantity - a little or a lot, just make sure each bunch has differing heights and include a some 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 Palm Sunday Procession Tutzing Andrea Jaksch, via Merkur.de - A small bound bunch of twigs and leaves and making Palmbuschen......Both courtesy Freilicht Museum, Oberbayern