It’s Palm Sunday, the Christian feast day that commemorates Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. For Poles, as for many other people, Palm Sunday has long been an important day during the Lenten season, filled with unique practices and traditions.
There was just one problem for Poles trying to celebrate Palm Sunday back in the day…
PALMS DON’T GROW IN POLAND
Instead, Poles would find whatever plants they could in the forests or fields. In the region of Mazovia, willow branches were often used because they were the first plants to bud after winter. Other parts of Poland used pine or juniper branches. In many instances the branches were decorated and colored in a very festive way. The various branches were then taken to church for Palm Sunday Mass, much like is done by many Catholics today.
After church, the branches were considered blessed and capable of inviting good fortune into the home. Even though Poles are Catholic, they have long held on to various superstitious beliefs. This was even more true hundreds of years ago.
The branches would be…
- Tucked into beehives so the bees would make a lot of honey.
- Slid behind religious pictures in the house to protect the family from danger.
- Placed in the barn rafters to protect against lightning strikes and promote the farm animals’ health.
- Slipped under a goose’s nest to safeguard her babies.
- Buried in the earth to protect the crops.
- Fastened to the farmer’s plow to encourage a good growing season.
Some people would even eat the bud of the pussy willow branch, believing that it would keep them healthy. Palm Sunday was an opportunity to cleanse oneself and one’s home from anything unclean.
Besides the palm traditions, some parts of Poland had customs that wouldn’t entirely make sense to us today.
One was called puchery and involved schoolboys dressing up in colorful costumes resembling soldiers, shepherds, etc. In a tradition almost mirroring Trick or Treat, the boys would go from door to door singing songs and praising Christ’s Resurrection in exchange for baked treats.
In Krakow, there was a custom called koniarz on Palm Sunday where a boy would cover his face in soot, wear a sheepskin coat and carry a wooden sword and basket. Like puchery, boys partaking in koniarz would recite various verses and songs in exchange for treats.
Overall, Palm Sunday represented, and continues to represent, the last festive day before the solemnity of Holy Week. For Poles, it was also a way to mentally prepare for the coming spring and get into a hopeful state of mind.
My main source for this post was Polish Customs, Traditions & Folklore by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab