Palm Sunday Twigs. Palm branches were thrown in front of Jesus during His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which is celebrated on Palm Sunday. In pre-Christian times, by the Romans, as well as by Jews, palm branches were considered symbols of triumph and victory. Today the blessed palm twigs are used during the celebrations of Palm Sunday as a symbol of the victory of the faithful over temptations and enemies of the soul. In Europe, this tradition is spread in Greece, Spain and some regions where palms grow. The other European countries adapted different kinds of trees available in their parts to honour Palm Sunday. Most of them in the Northern, Central and Eastern parts of Europe use willow branches, in Italy and France olive branches are used, in Ireland – yew, in other regions – boxwood, laurel, holly and rosemary. Anyway, the meaning of the twigs is always the same, in spite of the particular type of the tree.
Usually the holy twigs are blessed in the churches and then distributed among the faithful, who bring them home and place at the entrance, near the icons, in each room of the house and in each building of the household, keeping them until next year’s Palm Sunday. In some countries they make the shape of a cross of the palm branches. In France people used to hang little sweets on the holy twigs. In Germany the willow branches were decorated with ribbons and little flowers. In Eastern Europe they often tip each member of the family with the blessed branches, for good health and luck. The holy twigs were believed to possess special healing qualities, The Polish believed, that swallowing a bud of the blessed willow branch would ensure health for the whole year. Throwing away the blessed twigs is considered a bad sign, they can be rather put into the ground, or thrown into the fire.
Easter Fire. In the ancient beliefs the fireand bonfires were associated with the victory of spring over winter. In the Christian traditions this belief was adopted to symbolizing the light of God at the Holy Day of Easter. In most of the Orthodox countries (such as Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Romania) before the Easter mass they expect the Holy Fire to arrive from Jerusalem. The Holy Fire is a miraculous phenomenon, first recorded in 870 AD. Each year at a certain place (the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem), at a certain time (noon of the Orthodox Holy Saturday) the Holy Fire spontaneously descends on 33 white candles tied together by a Patriarch inside the tomb chamber of Jesus. The candles then are distributed them to the representatives of several Orthodox churches, and afterwards are carefully brought to the main churches of the countries, from where Holy Fire is distributed in other churches and cathedrals, so that the faithful may lit their candles from it. This Fire is believed by the Christians to be the flame of Resurrection power. In the Catholic traditions the miracle of the Holy Fire is not practiced, but they have a rite of lighting a large white Paschal candle before the mass, the fire of which is distributed among the faithful.
Easter Eggs. The ancient Persians painted eggs for Nowrooz, their New Year celebration falling on the Spring Equinox. The oval shape of an egg was considered by the Greeks a sign of a miracle. Eggs in Celtic traditions were a mighty symbol of life and rebirth after the period of darkness. It preserved the significance of life also in Christianity, becoming the symbol of the eternal life and Christ’s Resurrection. At the Jewish Passover a hard-boiled egg dipped in salt water symbolizes both new life and the Passover sacrifice offered at the Temple in Jerusalem. Religious tradition generated many various folk tales and legends, connected to the origin of the Easter eggs.
The most spread is the tale about Mary Magdalene, who came to the Emperor of Rome after the Ascension of Jesus and brought an egg to him as a symbol of Resurrection, with the words: “Christ is risen”. The Emperor didn’t believe her words and said: “Like the eggs do not turn red, also the dead do not rise”. At that very moment the egg turned red.
Another legend has it that a poor man was bringing eggs in his basket to the market, happening to pass where Jesus was taking his cross to a place of execution. The poor man (who probably was Simon of Cyrene, mentioned in the Gospels) felt pity for Jesus, so he left his basket on the ground, and helped Him to carry the heavy cross until the very place. When the man turned back to his basket, he found all the eggs inside coloured and painted.
Coloured Easter eggs by Slavic traditions are to be prepared on the Holy Saturday, in this case they would keep fresh during all feasts. In Ukraine people coloured 13 eggs – like 12 Apostles and Jesus Christ. Most of them had to be red, reminding of the Christ’s blood, shed for the mankind. In the past, people coloured eggs, using different herbal decoctions, the most spread and easy was boiling eggs with red or yellow onion skins (to make them respectively red or golden). Forbidden to eat eggs during all the period of Lent, Christians gave each other coloured eggs on Easter Sunday.
Decorated Easter eggs. In many Slavic countries there is a tradition to decorate Easter eggs by painting them manually. For painting the hard-boiled or emptied and specially treated eggs are used. There are also decorative eggs, made of clay or wood. The technique of eggs decoration is rather like writing with beeswax on the surface, using special tools. Usually they depict symbolic shapes and lines, and use special combinations of colours. Decorated Eater eggs are spread in Ukraine, Belarus, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia and Bulgaria.
In Ukraine there is a particular tradition of “pysanka”, which comes from the ancient pagan custom to create a symbol of the sun, life and spring rebirth. They created an oval shape of an egg and applied symbolic geometric figures and shapes onto it, as for example triangles or forty branches. These symbols were connected to the pagan deities and rites, and have survived until today, obtaining a different Christian significance. In Carpathian Mountains (in Ukraine) there is an ancient belief that the destiny of all the world depends on pysanky. The evil in the shape of a huge serpent chained to a cliff each year sends his messengers to control how many of pysanky have been created. If the number is low, the chains are loosened, if there are many pysanky, the chains are tightened. They believe, if for any reason the custom of making pysanky is abandoned, the evil will easily break through his chains and overrun the world.
Pysanky were kept in the houses, put in the animal stalls and granaries to protect from evil spirits and various disasters. People gave the eggs to their relatives, friends and neighbours as a gift of life. The eggshells of pysanky was broken into pieces and thrown into a running stream, or on the roof of the house for good luck.
Picture source: Автор Post of Russian Empire, unknown artist / художник не указан [Public domain undefined Public domain], undefined
Easter hare. Rabbit or hare is a characteristic Easter symbol in the Western Europe. In Celtic beliefs the hare was considered an animal of femininity and fertility, celebrated with the spring. Anglo-Saxons believed it was the favourite animal of the goddess of spring Eostre. In Germany, starting from the 16th century, Easter rabbit became a popular symbol of the feast. Today there are different sweets in the shape of a rabbit, used on Easter.
By the legend, spread in Germany and some other European countries, an Easter rabbit is coming in the night secretly and brings baskets filled with Easter eggs and sweets for the children (being another secret gift-giver like St Nicholas and Father Christmas). Sometimes Easter rabbit is believed to go around the garden and hide coloured and chocolate eggs in the lawns and bushes, so that in the morning children come out to search them.
Easter lily. Lily was known as a symbol of the new of life of Jesus. This white flower symbolized purity, virtue, hope and life, which form the spiritual meaning of Easter. By the legend the white lilies grew in the Garden of Gethsemane, where Jesus prayed with Apostles the night before his crucifixion. Another tradition has it that the lilies germinated on the ground where drops of Christ’s sweat fell during his final hours of sorrow and suffering. The flowers of purity were often associated with the Holy Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus. Today people decorate churches and houses with lilies on Easter.
Other spring flowers, like daffodils, narcissus and the tulips are also considered symbols of Easter and spring rebirth. In some countries, people bring flower bouquets in church for blessing on Palm Sunday, along with the twigs.