Bulgarian Palm Sunday: Faith, Tradition, and Celebration

Society » CULTURE | Author: Diana Kavardzhikova |April 28, 2024, Sunday // 09:02
Bulgaria: Bulgarian Palm Sunday: Faith, Tradition, and Celebration

The Feast of the Lord's Entry into Jerusalem, also known as Palm Sunday (Tsvetnitsa), recounts the historical events that preceded the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It ushers in Holy Week, especially emphasizing the suffering of Good Friday. The feast is celebrated on the Sunday before Easter and has a variable date.

Palm Sunday is a significant Bulgarian folk holiday that is among the most popular name days for people whose names are associated with vegetation. It is also known as Vrabnitsa (from vurba, willow), for the rituals with willow branches, reminiscent of the palm branches with which Jesus was welcomed in Jerusalem. It is also known as Kuklinden, Palm Sunday, Vaya, and in Western churches as Palm Sunday.

As shared by Pravoslavie.bg Palm Sunday reminds us of the triumph that awaits us in the resurrection and which is achieved through the cross. This feast convinces us that the road to Pascha is neither easy nor direct. It illustrates the ancient Roman proverb: “Per aspera ad astra” means literally "Through hardships to the stars".

Jesus enters Jerusalem, along with some of his most prominent disciples, in the days surrounding the Jewish feast of Pascha. On that day, the Israelites offered prayers of thanksgiving to God in the Jerusalem Temple. Many years ago, when they were slaves in Egypt, they escaped from a foreign country with God's help. For the Passover celebration, people from all areas of Israel flocked to the city of Jerusalem. The Lord Jesus Christ and His disciples also went to the city. On their way, they met a man who told them that their friend Lazarus of Bethany was seriously ill. His sisters Martha and Mary begged the Lord to come to them to heal him. A few days later Jesus arrived at their home and saw Lazarus' relatives weeping inconsolably because he had died. Then Jesus performed a great miracle. He revived the dead man. Many believed that Jesus was the long-awaited King - the Savior of Israel. It was foretold by the prophet Zechariah in ancient times that God would send a King to the people who would bring them peace, joy, and salvation from all misery. He will be meek and just and will enter the city of Jerusalem riding a donkey.

The road of Jesus and the apostles to the capital of the province passes by the village of Bethphage, where he sends two of the apostles to bring him the donkey and her colt tied at the head of the village, and if anyone asks them why they are there, they are to say that it is the Lord's need. The disciples went to the village and immediately found the colt. His owners, realizing that they had been sent by the Lord, did not prevent them from untying him. On learning that it was for him, their owners were even glad to part with the cattle. Christ saddles the aged animal and riding it (in agreement with the prophecies concerning this moment), he solemnly enters Jerusalem, which is described in the New Testament.

The people, seeing in him the Messiah, enthusiastically waved palm branches and threw flowers at his feet. All sing the following hymn: “Hosanna! BLESSED (celebrated, praised) Is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” At his feet, the faithful spread their garments and scatter olive branches. The Pharisees object to this, insisting that Christ forbid the people to praise him in this way, to which he replies, "I tell you that if these keep silent, the stones will cry out". The procession continues and goes along the Mount of Olives to the Temple. Its courtyard at this time has been turned into a marketplace - money is exchanged, as the Temple does not accept donations in the mass coinage of Rome, and the pigeons needed for the sacrifices in honor of Jehovah are sold. Christ disperses the assembly, essentially delivering his first sermon in the city - that the Second Temple should henceforth be respected in its role as God's house and not used for anyone's financial gain. He then did several healings of sick and infirm people on the spot.

Folk Customs associated with the holiday

  • The feast of Palm Sunday is dedicated to this solemn entry of the Lord Jesus Christ into the city of Jerusalem. Willow branches are blessed in the Church and given to Christians for blessing. They symbolize the palm trees with which Jesus was welcomed in Jerusalem. At home, the willow branch is placed over the icon. In some areas of the country, the tradition of using flowers blessed in church to bathe children and animals against sickness and disease is still kept. On this day prayers are offered to the Son of God in the hope that he will give no one a cross greater than he can carry.

  • Palm Sunday marks the beginning of a new mythological narrative related to the belief of "releasing" the souls of the dead. In northern Bulgaria, the belief in the dissolution of the dead (less often associated with Maundy Thursday, and most often with Easter), who come to mourn their living descendants, is widespread; this gives rise to the specific custom of lighting a fire at graves to warm the dead and give them light. Even before sunrise, women head there and perform ritual acts: reburial, transfusion, and giving away.

  • On this day the last Lazarus custom "Kumichene" is performed. Early in the morning, the girls (lazarki) go to the river, carrying flowers, willow, and small loaves of bread called "dolls". The maidens line up by the river, sing ritual songs, and throw a flower and a piece of the "doll" into the river. Whether they remain still or go with the flow is a guess as to whether there will be a recent betrothal for any of the maidens present - if the wrist or "doll" remains in place, no wedding is foreseen soon, but if they go quickly on the water it is a sign of a recent betrothal. The maiden whose "doll" or wrist is carried the fastest down the river is proclaimed the bride of the girls (lazarki), who take her in their arms and carry her to the village. In certain areas of the country, ritual swings are also made, in which the kumitsa is swung first and then all the others. After performing the custom "Kumichene", the girls sing songs of love and marriage. The celebration ends at the home of the koumitsa, after which the maidens are forbidden to speak to her until the third day of Easter when they go to visit her again, and she treats them to dyed eggs and symbolically grants them forgiveness.

  • In certain areas, especially in Eastern Bulgaria, the custom of “buenek” is also performed on Vrabnitsa, again only by girls. In it, typical songs and dances with dramatic motifs are performed, with two girls portraying a bride and groom.

Holy Week begins on the Monday after Palm Sunday, which is the day of Christ's Passion before His Resurrection.

Palm Sunday is celebrated by all who bear names derived from plant names: Angel, Angelina, Biliana, Bozhura, Violetta, Verban, Verbinka, Gergin(a), Grozdan(k)a, Dafina, Delia, Delyan(a), Dilyan(a), Dinka, Detelin(a), Elitsa - comes from Ella, Jasmina, Zdravka, Zdravko, Zymbyl(ka), Iva, Iglika, Kalin(a), Kalia, Kamelia, Kitka, Latinka, Lily, Lila, Lilia, Liliana, Laura, Lulina, Margarita, Magnolia, Malina, Neva, Petunia, Ralitsa, Rosa, Rosen, Rositsa, Smilyan(a), Temenuga, Trendaphil(a), Fidan(k)a, Flower, Tsvetan(a), Tsvetanka, Tsvetelin(a), Tsvetomir(a), Tsvetoslav(a), Tsvyatko, Yavor(a), etc.

Photos: Stella Ivanova


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Tags: Bulgarian, Palm Sunday, Jesus, Christ

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