An Easter palm (Polish: Palma wielkanocna, Lithuanian: Verba) is a traditional Polish and Lithuanian symbolic decoration associated with Palm Sunday. Barbara Ogrodowska states that the ceremonial palm branch is the "most important attribute" of Palm Sunday in Poland. Communities of Polish emigrants, such as those in the United States, observe the tradition of making of Easter palms as well.
Appearance and composition
Traditionally, Easter palms are prepared on Ash Wednesday, from willow branches (with catkins). As palm trees are not indigenous to Poland, willow branches serve as symbolic substitutes for palm branches. An Easter palm may also sport some decorations, such as ribbons or dried flowers or other plants, with attributed beneficial effects.[specify]
In the early 20th century, around Vilnius (Polish: Wilno, now in Lithuania, but between the wars part of Poland), decorations made to resemble palm trees began to be sold on Palm Sunday each year. Rarely more than 0.5 metres (1 ft 8 in) long, the Easter palms soon became popular throughout Poland, and were exported to France in significant quantities as well. It is possible that the Easter palm was originally designed by Polish interwar artist Ferdynand Ruszczyc; further historical research is needed.
Easter palms may reach as high as 10 metres (33 ft). In the 2011 edition of an Easter palm competition that has been held yearly since 1958, one entry reportedly topped 36 metres (118 ft), making it the tallest Easter palm on record.
There are many regional variations between Easter palms in Poland. In the south of the country, willow branches of various lengths are tied together, sometimes with hazel branches or wicker as well, and topped with a large flower bouquet and other decorations, including a golden cross. In the Kurpie region, the entire length of the Easter palm is often decorated with flowers. The Ethnographic Museum of Kraków holds over 200 Easter palms in its collection.
Easter palms are an important feature of Polish Easter celebrations. They are consecrated in a church, and subsequently paraded. Some regional customs include using the palms to sprinkle water in a house, feeding them to animals, using them as decorations for religious paintings, and burning them and using the ash in Ash Wednesday ceremonies the next year. Easter palms were said to bring about a good harvest when "planted" in a field.
As with some Christian symbols and traditions, the Easter palm's origin can be traced to pagan religions which held the willow to be endowed with beneficial qualities, and to symbolize enduring life, and rebirth. In time, the willow was adopted as a symbol by Christians in Poland.
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