Palm Sunday 2023: what is Christian observance, when is it in UK, meaning, story and links to Easter Sunday
The Christian celebration falls on the Sunday before Easter
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Palm Sunday is a Christian celebration marking the first day of Holy Week. The date also marks Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, as stated in the four canonical Gospels.
Christians around the world will be preparing to celebrate the holiday of Easter which marks when Jesus rose from the dead three days after he was crucified.
However the date of Palm Sunday changes every year, and when you celebrate it depends on whether you are from a Western or Eastern demonimation of Christianity. So when is Palm Sunday 2023, and what is the history of the occasion? Here’s what you need to know.
When is Palm Sunday?
As Palm Sunday is the start of Holy Week, it falls on the Sunday before Good Friday and one week before Easter Sunday. In 2023, Palm Sunday will take place on 2 April for Western denominations of Christianity.
Palm Sunday is a moveable date, as it always marks the Sunday before Easter. The date of Easter always occurs on the first Sunday after the Paschal full moon following the vernal equinox - which took place on Sunday 26 March 2022. This year, the first full moon after Sunday 26 March 2023 is Sunday 2 April 2023, therefore, Easter will take place on Sunday 9 April, and Palm Sunday, on 2 April 2022.
However, in Eastern Christianity, which is practiced in countries such as Greece, Serbia, and Romania, Palm Sunday will fall on 9 April 2023. This is because many Orthodox Churches base their Easter date on the Julian calendar, rather than the Gregorian calendar.
Holy Week is the most sacred 7-day period in the Christian year, where believers recall the events that led up to Jesus’ death and resurrection. It also marks the arrangement of Judas to betray Jesus, on Holy Wednesday - also known as Spy Wednesday - and the Last Supper, which took place on Maundy Thursday. This Thursday also marks the end of Lent.
What is the story behind Palm Sunday?
Palm Sunday marks the Triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, and the beginning of Jesus’ Passion, suffering, death and resurrection. In the Bible, according to John 12:9, people start to believe in Jesus after he raised Lazarus from the dead.
The day after, as Jesus entered Jerusalem for Passover, multitudes of people gathered to greet him by waving palm branches and singing songs of praise, such as "Hosanna to the Son of David,” “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord,” “Blessed is the king of Israel!” Some accounts say some people in the crowds lay down their coats for him as a symbolic way to treat Jesus as their King.
In Eastern Christianity, Jesus riding into the city on a donkey symbolised peace, as a king would have ridden a horse when waging war, but a donkey when arriving in peace. Palm branches resembled goodness and victory and were depicted on coins and buildings.
How is Palm Sunday observed around the world?
In many countries such as Russia, Austria, Ukraine, Poland and several Eastern European Churches, practitioners use pussy willow and other alternatives as palms are not readily available. As a result, Palm Sunday also has a few other names, such as Yew Sunday, Branch Sunday and in Syria, Oshana Sunday, after the phrase sung when Jesus entered Jerusalem.
Churches in the western domination often take blessed palms and create Christian art, such as crosses to keep until next year’s Lent. The palms used during Palm Sunday are burnt to create the ashes for the following Ash Wednesday. In contrast to the rest of the week, Palm Sunday is a joyous time, where many Church services tell the narrative of Jesus, and read the relevant scriptures - as this was a day where people celebrated Jesus.