Palm Sunday Traditions in Poland - Easter Palms from Pussy Willows and other Customs
Palm Sunday niedziela palmowa is called also The Sunday of the Lord's Passion niedziela meki Panskiej, Willow Sunday niedziela wierzbowa, Branch Sunday niedziela rozdzkowa or April Sunday niedziela kwietna since it takes place usually in April (not in 2005). Here we will focus mainly on the tradition of Polish palms, but let me start with some other habits of Polish Palm Sunday. See woderful photographs from the celebrations of Palm Sunday in 2007 in Krakow, Poland.
There was a custom to bring to a church a figure of Jesus Christ riding on a donkey while the spectators were throwing flowers and pussy willow branches - see pussy willows. Carrying the figure of Jesus was a honorary function - In Krakow, the town councilors were doing this. This was usually accompanied by a procession from one church to another or from outside of the church inside symbolizing the ceremony of Jesus entering Jerusalem. The Church banned this habit at the end of the XVIII century because it was becoming too theatrical and full of pranks and it was accompanied by not very religious songs.
Another tradition of Easter is puchery or pucheroki - some villages near Krakow (Zielonki, Bibice) are famous from this tradition. I participated once in such Pucheroki competition. The spectators were choosing not only the best dressed boy with the tallest cap but also the one who was the best and most convincing singer. Read more about it and see the pictures pucheroki-1 and pucheroki-2 - from Gazeta Wyborcza.
Since in Poland the Spring does not start usually until the late April, Poland is also lacking the palms indigenous to Jerusalem, the Poles developed their own tradition of making the Easter palms. The most popular palms that people usually carry to the church are made of blooming pussy willows branches called bazie or kotki decorated with branches of birch, raspberry, currant and also some boxwood bukszpan, dry flowers and grass, ribbons and other decorations. In the Catholic Church the willow (Polish: wierzba) symbolizes the resurrection and the immortality of the soul.
If the Palm Sunday occurs early in late March or early April people cut the branches of pussy willows and other fruit traditionally on Ash Wednesday. Then the branches are placed in vases with water to grow inside the warm room until they start budding green.
Different regions had their own type of palms, the palms in Vilnius region (now Lithuania) did not contain pussy willows at all but they were carefully constructed from dry flowers (usually straw flowers called in Polish niesmiertelnik which means "immortal") and painted into vivid colors; now these types of palm can be seen all over Poland. In some regions palms were up to four meters tall, for instance in the region of Nowy Sacz (South of Krakow) or Kurpie region (Northeast Poland).
In many places the competitions for the most beautiful, decorative and prominent palms are organized. Under this link one can see the winners with their palms from one of the contest in Zegocin.
In the past there was a habit that people "beat" each other with the palms on the way home after the mass. This was not for punishment but rather for good wishes. They exclamed: Ja nie bije, palma bije... (I am not beating, the palm is beating...)
Since the palms are blessed in the church they are stored with a great care at homes, usually near the holy pictures to protect from any misfortunes people and animals. They are also kept near the windows during the thunderstorms or hails or tucked into beehives so that the bees will produce good honey. In the past the pussy willows (Polish: bazie) were swallowed by members of family to protect from the throat diseases or headached. Powdered pussy willows were used as a medicine.