In Christian countries, Palm Sunday, the last Sunday of Lent before Easter, commemorates Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem where he arrived to celebrate Passover with his disciples before his crucifixion.
Palm Sunday in a Country With No Palms
In Poland, Palm Sunday is known as Niedziela Palmowa which marks the beginning of Holy Week known as Kwietna or Wierzbna. People around the world bring palms to church to be blessed. But palm trees are not indigenous to Poland so, instead, the faithful bring greenery found in the fields. Others bring posies made of pussy willows, the first buds to appear in Poland, and a plant considered to love life because it grows in the worst conditions.
And in other regions of Poland, Easter palms, known as Palma Wielkanocna or Palemka Wielkanocna or palemki (little palms), are made of branches of arborvisattae, spruce, boxwood, and yew. Since flowers are not yet in bloom, artificial ones made from tissue and crepe paper are fastened to the branch. Sometimes, flowers that have been dried from the previous summer are attached and colorful ribbons festoon the "palms" that can reach the length of your elbow or as high as a 12-story building!
Every year, palm competitions take place throughout Poland. Two notable ones are held in Łyse in the Kurpie region, and in the village of Lipnica Murowana, southwest of Krakòw.
The village of Łyse holds a contest for the tallest and most beautiful palm. People from all over the region work hard for the forty days of Lent to make their entries.
The palms in Lipnica Murowana are so tall, they cannot be carried upright and are transported to the main square or churchyard by several men who hoist them up so they stand on end.
In Wilno (now in Lithuania), palma take the form of slender bouquet sticks known as wałki in varying heights. They are decorated with dried flowers, and spikes of grasses and mosses.
The contests are very competitive with specific rules -- no nails or other metal elements can be used in making the palms, only wood, willow, reeds, green branches and paper flowers are allowed. Wires, ropes, and lines from synthetic materials are also forbidden. In order to qualify for the contest, the palm has to stand upright without breaking, it has to be raised with no help from machines (just men in trees guiding it and others on the ground with special long pushing forks), and the creator of the palma must be able to encircle its girth with his hands.
Mystical Powers of Palma
While the blessed palms have a religious significance, they are placed over a sacred image or above the front door to protect against fire and all evil. Early in the morning on Easter Sunday or Easter Monday in southern Poland (particularly in the Sącz and Rzeszów areas) bits of palm or palm crosses, along with blessed eggs are placed or buried in the fields and garden to bless and defend them from hail and pests.
In the village of Tokarnia near Myślenice and other areas, a custom known as Jezus Palmowy or Jezus Lipowy takes place in which a figure of Christ riding a donkey is placed in a cart and pulled through the main square in a procession. This tradition, which started in the 15th century, was banned by church authorities in 1781 because they had turned into raucous affairs, but it is slowly returning to its place of honor in Palm Sunday celebrations.