Desperately Missing Palm Sunday

It might seem a bit late to be writing about Palm Sunday, but I was too depressed yesterday to give it a go. Coronavirus has stripped away so many things from our lives, but across the world, losing Holy Week: Palm Sunday, Holy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter, seems a very big price.

Some priests defied orders and held mass. My church was not one of these, nor would I have attended had there been a mass. I am not that brave, not that foolhardy, and not that indifferent to my neighbors and healthcare workers that I’d defy our lawmakers to do so.

Still, in my heart, I mourned the passing of a lovely holiday. There were consolations, however: mass from the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception on TV. Glorious voices from an a cappella group spaced six feet apart and priests who offered mass to an empty, cathedral-sized basilica, both filled me with sorrow, and let me marvel at the closeup views of cardinals and church architecture I never could see when attending in person. The readings and lecture were tremendously poignant in this time of global suffering.

I was also heartened by my family in Italy, all sharing photos of green foliage posted by doors and windows — whatever bit of greenery they could find — as a symbol of the palms they could not bring home from their churches. I loved seeing videos of priests holding mass on rooftops and people straining to hear from balconies. Doing whatever they could to celebrate the day.

In my late, but heartfelt tribute to everyone who missed Palm Sunday, I am reposting this piece I wrote a few years ago. I will also be posting more about Holy Week — especially the holiday traditions in Italy.

No matter your religion, we are in this fight together, and in this, the holiest week in the Christian calendar, I wish you love, I wish you health, and I bid you peace.


Diana Belchase

Below are my thoughts from a few years ago. I hope they bring back joyful Easter memories for you.

Today is Palm Sunday, a holiday that many Americans overlook. But in churches around the world, people gather, pray, and use palm fronds during the mass to commemorate Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem.

Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase
 Congregation gathers for palm processional. (c) Diana Belchase

Among Italian-Americans this day is a whole lot more. I remember my father making us go to a second church service if the palm fronds at the first church weren’t to his satisfaction. Then we’d spend the day making little things out of the blessed palms — heart of Jesus rings, crosses, Jacob’s ladder. He regretted not learning the things his father and grandfather used to make — little donkeys, sheep and other animals.

Palm Processional
 Palm Processional. Dad would have loved these gorgeous palms!  (c) Diana Belchase

These items would decorate our house all year long. At the end of the year, the church requires palms to be burned, but we couldn’t ever seem to do that. We just added to the ever-increasing collection of straw-like bric a brac that festooned our home.

Dad's Jacob's Ladder
 One of my late father’s Jacob’s Ladders still sits on my bookshelf. (c) Diana Belchase

Palm Sunday also meant an elaborate midday dinner with special treats my grandmother made only once a year. Her recipes took hours to make and every bite was infused with love.

Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase
 Prayerful hands with palm fronds. (c) Diana Belchase

I miss those days and now, married into a non-Italian family I see the blessing growing up Italian really was. My husband’s family has been here for three hundred years. There are no family traditions other than an annual reunion that will probably die out when the last of his parents’ generation does. His cousins are scattered far and wide. They rarely see one another, rarely call, although the love in that family is as real as it is in my own. They just have a different way of expressing it.

I think, perhaps, this is more common than I ever suspected. It’s recently occurred to me that all those Martha Stewart magazines we love, all those home cooking shows on TV, the special issues and episodes with holiday ideas, are the symptom of a country minus an identity. We are so wonderfully integrated many of us have lost a bit of the “old country” that originally brought us here.

Entering Church with Palm Cross

We long to remember what grandma cooked and what our great-grandfather made. Second-generation Americans like Martha and me are so full of traditions, we can’t help wanting to share them with others. For Martha it’s become a cottage industry, for me it’s stuffing my friends’ faces with food they often say they can’t believe I made.

Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase
 Boy with Palm Cross (c) Diana Belchase

Today I smiled as I saw first-generation Filipinos and Africans quickly fashioning little crosses during the service from the fronds in their hands. They gathered more as they left the church, and I realized their homes must look much as my own used to. I loved that their families aren’t just full of love, but also full of tradition, the way mine used to be.

Wedding rings and Palm Fronds
 Wedding rings and Palm Fronds (c) Diana Belchase

So I wonder dear reader, do you have family traditions? Are you searching for more? Are you able to pass these down to your children? Please tell me, I’d really like to know.

Wishing you all the blessings of a wonderful season — be it Easter, or Passover, or just plain spring. We’re lucky to be here, in the land our ancestors fought so hard to bring us to — whether it be three hundred years or only one. We’re Americans and that’s a tremendously wonderful thing to be.


5 replies »

  1. Dear Diana, it was so good to “hear” your voice and all the love you have for your family and their traditions. We carry some on and have created new ones as well. I’m excited to share that my kids, now in their twenties, still want to see us carry out the ones that were created for them as children. My family is going to partake in someone else’s tradition this Thursday. My daughter’s boyfriend’s grandfather (no, I’m not setting up a joke) is a Messianic Jew, and holding a Seder meal. We are following along online. I love sharing traditions. When you share yours with others (ideally in person), it’s a way of bringing them into your family/building bridges. Love to you and yours. Happy Easter.

  2. Great hearing from you, Chris! How exciting about your Seder meal. I grew up in a neighborhood with all kinds of cultures and was fortunate to celebrate many Passovers at a dear friend ‘s home. I think you will enjoy it immensely, albeit virtually, this year. One of the traditions is to hide a piece of matzoh for the younger generation to find, and of course, get a prize. But the best part is the four questions, in my opinion. Let me know which parts you like best. Hugs!

  3. Sweet and touching memories. A little bit different behind the scenes. Three services that MUST start on time, bulletins to be typed, mimeographed (yes – mimeographed), and folded, foliage that confuses the dogs, but delighted them, too – an indoor bathroom! Imperative new clothes (dress, shoes, hat for women; new tie for men), strangers in church – miffed that the regulars don’t stay home and leave room for those who come once a year, two choirs instead of one (have to have the children’s choir), kids running around back stage sticking fronds in their noses and snorting like bulls, other kids playing chopsticks on the cariilon so that it rings out over the masses, the two lead sopranos arguing over which verse to sing, the teenagers necking in the cloakroom,, a little boy crying in the sanctuary because he lost his mommy in the crowd, a baby that badly needs changing… Ahhh – good memories.

    • Wow, I can see it all in my mind’s eye. It would make a terrifically funny movie. Thanks for stopping by!

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