Traditions - General Info Section

Palm Sunday - Dimanche des Rameaux in France

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Palm Sunday - Dimanche des Rameaux, the Sunday before Easter

Palm Sunday commemorates the triumphal entry of Jesus in Jerusalem.

Presenting himself as the Messiah the Jews expected, Jesus humbly and peacefully entered the city on a donkey.

The huge crowd that was pressed along the way, cheered by placing clothes at his feet.

People also waved twigs or rameaux.

In Northern France, people use box-tree branches in order to commemorate the Dimanche des Rameaux, as boxtree thrive in colder regions.

In the old time, France was essentially rural.

Most people had a tiny garden where they always planted a boxtree in order to have enough twigs available for Palm Sunday.

Box-tree is still a common shrub in our gardens, however, we use it now mainly for decorative purposes.

It is indeed easy to shape and is therefore used for topiary.

Palm branches and Box-tree twigs

In the south of France, where the climate is milder, box-tree is replaced by palm, and Palm Sunday is known as Dimanche des Palmes.

The Jews who cheered their Messiah entering Jerusalem some 2000 years ago, most likely waved palm branches.

In Corsica, people mix olive-tree twigs to the palm's because the olive-tree is a symbol of peace and abundance.

Box-tree, is a perennial shrub with very resilient dark green leaves and is therefore an ideal symbol of life.

Once blessed during Palm Sunday Mass, some of the box-tree twigs are placed on the graves of the dead.

The remaining twigs are brought back home and placed on the cross located above the main entrance door.

These twigs place the home and its inhabitants under the protection of God for a whole year.

They are brought back to church on Ash Wednesday of the following year and are burned.

The priest uses the ash in order to bless worshipers by drawing a cross on their forehead during Ash Wednesday Mass.

Ash Wednesday is a day of penance that takes place the day after Mardi Gras and marks the beginning of Lent.

Palm Sunday commemorates also the Passion of Christ and his Death on the Cross, and it marks the beginning of Holy Week.

Palm Sunday Mass is preceded by a procession, which in theory starts at a first church where the box-tree twigs are blessed.

The worshipers walk towards a second church where they make a solemn entry.

The Passion is then proclaimed during a Mass.

If there is only one church, the declaration of the Passion must still happen in a suitable location different from the first church.

Each stage of the celebration of Palm Sunday is accompanied by liturgical chants.

Fewer French townies follow this religious tradition these days, however, many provincial communities still do.

Photo Wikimedia Creative Commons: Cross of ashes
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