Palms and Traditions: Celebrating Palm Sunday

Today is Palm Sunday, a holiday that many Americans overlook. But in churches around the world, people gather, pray, and use palm fronds during the mass to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase
Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Among Italian-Americans this day is a whole lot more. I remember my father making us go to a second church service if the palm fronds at the first church weren’t to his satisfaction. Then we’d spend the day making little things out of the blessed palms — heart of Jesus rings, crosses, Jacob’s ladder. He regretted not learning the things his father and grandfather used to make — little donkeys, sheep and other animals.

Palm Processional
Palm Processional. Dad would have loved these gorgeous palms!  (c) Diana Belchase


These items would decorate our house all year long. At the end of the year, the church requires palms to be burned, but we couldn’t ever seem to do that. We just added to the ever-increasing collection of straw-like bric a brac that festooned our home.

Dad's Jacob's Ladder
One of my late father’s Jacob’s Ladders still sits on my bookshelf. (c) Diana Belchase


Palm Sunday also meant an elaborate midday dinner with special treats my grandmother made only once a year. Her recipes took hours to make and every bite was infused with love.

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase
Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

I miss those days and now, married into a non-Italian family I see the blessing growing up Italian really was. My husband’s family has been here for three hundred years. There are no family traditions other than an annual reunion that will probably die out when the last of his parents’ generation does. His cousins are scattered far and wide. They rarely see one another, rarely call, although the love in that family is as real as it is in my own. They just have a different way of expressing it.

I think, perhaps, this is more common than I ever suspected. It’s recently occurred to me that all those Martha Stewart magazines we love, all those home cooking shows on TV, the special issues and episodes with holiday ideas, are the symptom of a country minus an identity. We are so wonderfully integrated many of us have lost a bit of the “old country” that originally brought us here.

Entering Church with Palm Cross

We long to remember what grandma cooked and what our great-grandfather made. Second-generation Americans like Martha and me are so full of traditions, we can’t help wanting to share them with others. For Martha it’s become a cottage industry, for me it’s stuffing my friends’ faces with food they often say they can’t believe I made.

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase
Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Today I smiled as I saw first-generation Filipinos and Africans quickly fashioning little crosses during the service from the fronds in their hands. They gathered more as they left the church, and I realized their homes must look much as my own used to. I loved that their families aren’t just full of love, but also full of tradition, the way mine used to be.

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds
Wedding rings and Palm Fronds (c) Diana Belchase


So I wonder dear reader, do you have family traditions? Are you searching for more? Are you able to pass these down to your children? Please tell me, I’d really like to know.

Wishing you all the blessings of a wonderful season — be it Easter, or Passover, or just plain spring. We’re lucky to be here, in the land our ancestors fought so hard to bring us to — whether it be three hundred years or only one. We’re Americans and that’s a tremendously wonderful thing to be.


8 thoughts on “Palms and Traditions: Celebrating Palm Sunday

  1. I can’t even figure out how to make a cross with my palm fronds! Who knew you could make more things? One of my favorite Lenten memories is from my early childhood. My parents would take us children to their Italian friends, Gino and Deloris, on Saturday nights. We generally would fall asleep on the floor with their kids, who had way cooler toys. About twenty minutes to midnight, Gino would start making pizzas, which were timed to come out of the oven about 12:01 Sunday morning when adults could break their fast. The kids would wake up and everyone would indulge in delicious hot pizza. We were most likely cranky the next day. Still, I miss that kind of thing.

  2. In our house, Palm Sunday was a pain in the neck – second only to Easter. It was my minister-father’s busiest day of the year – three services to accommodate the once-a-year church-goers making their annual pilgrimage to church. More than once I’d hear, “You’d think the people who come every Sunday would stay home to make room for those of us who only come once a year.” Yes, we made crosses out of palms, too; it was required in Sunday School. On Easter Sunday morning our living room was always full of lilies and hyacinths that had to be transported to the church. The house smelled like a funeral home. The bulletin for the services had two pages instead of one. I guess there’s tradition in there somewhere.

  3. Beautiful post, Diana. I also have strong memories of Palm Sunday. We’d go to mass, then have large lunch with family. But the afternoon would begin the preparations for Easter Week. We’d start cleaning the house, get the recipes together for Easter dinner and make sure the shopping was done by Wednesday morning. Because from Midday Wednesday until Easter morning, we spent a lot of time at church–confession, stations of the cross, blessing of the baskets and special foods, Holy Thursday vespers, Good Friday service, Easter vigil on Saturday, then Sunday mass. So whatever we were going to do for Easter had to be done by Wednesday morning.
    But we had off school from Holy Wednesday through the entire week after Easter. It’s much harder to do those things now that everyone has to work and has school. I try to do some of the that with the kids, but it’s not as easy as it once was.

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