On Saturday morning before Holy Week, while waiting for penitents to come for confession, the pastor of Little Flower Parish in Rugby, Fr. Tom Graner, can be seen reaching into a long plastic bag to get another palm to braid. He is making roses, pinecones and several other designs to decorate the altars and to give to the homebound and elderly whose fingers aren’t so nimble any longer. Fr. Tom told me he learned this from his late father; it is one of the connections he has with his father and his faith. Their tradition included gathering up the old palms from last year, burning them in an old Crisco can, and spreading the ashes on the garden, which Dad would then proceed to turn over by forkfuls in preparation for planting.
One of the beautiful traditions of our Church is that of braiding the blessed palms after Mass on Palm Sunday. Palm Sunday is the day we commemorate the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. Jesus had just raised his friend, Lazarus, from the dead; the people wanted to see Lazarus. The next day they heard Jesus was coming into the city for the Passover so they met him. Jesus mounted the colt which the disciples had found for him, and rode into the city amid cheers of “Hosanna, Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Gospel of John 12:12-16). These blessed palms, which the faithful wave during the reading of the first Gospel at Palm Sunday Mass, are then taken home and placed in each room where they are cherished as sacramentals, which the Catechism of the Catholic Church states (No. 1667) whereby ‘‘various occasions in life are rendered holy.” Some people like to leave the palm branches long, to place behind the crucifixes in their home. Other families braid them, even during the homily at Mass! In our family, Mother always started the braid for each of us nine kids in the car on the drive home from Mass. By the time the twelve miles were traversed, the palms were all braided and each child had a ‘pine cone’ for one of the rooms of our home.
I asked several people of the parish where I serve, St. Theresa the Little Flower of Rugby, about their palm braiding experiences. One middle-aged woman told me “I struggle every year. I want to braid them, but have trouble getting them started.” Another younger, 30-something woman told me, “I love to do it, but I have to relearn again every year!”
One young grade-school boy made them to order for people, creating crosses, roses, and other delicate Christian symbols. Now married, and the father of two children, I presume he is passing on the tradition to another generation of Catholics. When I lived at the provincial house in Hankinson word got around that I liked to braid palms; one year I had more than 30 ‘orders’ to complete, for various German-born Sisters who were in charge of house-keeping in the convent and guest rooms. In their native parishes of southern Bavaria, they used pussy willow branches on Palm Sunday morn to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, so our tradition of pam braiding was not natural for them!
I discovered the palms can even be soaked in cold water in the bathtub overnight if one can’t get them all braided on Palm Sunday afternoon!
Various resources are available for learning to braid palms. There must be tutorials on YouTube!! Have a blessed Holy Week and a glorious Easter!