Palmbuschen in the Alps

Did you know that the Palm branch is traditionally a symbol of joy and victory and has also been used since the antiquity as a sign of life and hope?

On Palm Sunday, according to Christian belief, Jesus rode into Jerusalem where people gave him a hero's welcome and waved at him with palm branches; they also spread them throughout the streets before him as sign of victory as they regarded him as the leader who would deliver them from the Roman Empire´s domination. 

All over the world, Palm Sunday is celebrated in accordance with local traditions as start of the Holy Week, the week before Easter, commemorating events in the last days of Jesus Christ´s life. 

In many small villages of the Austrian Alps, people gather together on this special day on the streets and form processions carrying heavily decorated “Palmbuschen” which traditionally only the young boys were allowed to bind together and carry.

The young go into the woods and pick, depending on the tradition of their individual community, the following plants and herbs: 

pussy willow, boxwood, yew, juniper, cedar, savin and hazel stock.

These evergreen plants are then bound together into a beautiful bush and attached to a stick made and carved from hazel stock.  The “Palmbuschen” is then often decorated with colourful ribbons and “Fastenringerl” which are bread rings baked only with flour, water, egg and milk in line with local fasting rules and possibly some apples - those left over from the farmers’ winter cellars, where they traditionally would have been stored.

People wear their traditional Alpine clothes and assemble with their hand made “Palmbuschen” for the blessing in the open. After the blessing ceremony, the procession carries the “Palmbuschen” from house to house as a symbol of Good Luck, Spring and Growth Power; thereafter they are placed into meadows, fields and gardens in order for them to ensure that there will be good crops and harvest.

In some villages the blessed “Palmbuschen” are carried around the house 3 times to prevent any misfortune and at times the “Palmbuschen” is stuck under the roof ridge to keep bad spirits from entering the house. They have sayings such as “one little branch thrown into the embers of fire should keep all evil away” and “the swallowing of one pussy willow will cure all sore throats”.

It is always the privilege of the local youth to carry the Palmbuschen and to lead the procession through the village; their efforts are usually rewarded with the “first, blessed, real" Easter eggs.