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THE VOICE OF INTERNATIONAL LITHUANIA

20 August 2017
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Sunday 1 April is
Verbų sekmadienis
– Palm Sunday


Kanutas Ruseckas (1800–1860).
Lietuvaitė su verbomis (1847)

The Christian world celebrates Jesus' noble entry into Jerusalem on the last Sunday before Easter. In Lithuania this day is called Verbu Sekmadienis – Palm Sunday. When Christianity came to Lithuania, plants which sprouted earliest were honored during spring feasts. Even now, willows, osiers and weeping willows are consecrated on Palm Sunday.

Mythological folklore relates that one of the willows, called Blinde, had been a very fertile woman, bearing numerous children. Earth, the most fertile mother was jealous of her. When Blinde walked through a wetfield, her feet sank into the mud. Blinde turned into a willow tree out of great sadness. The osier, with male spores was regarded as an unusual tree. Folklore tells that the osier grew out of a secretly murdered man. A fife made of osier wood, speaks in a man's voice. Evil spirits avoid it because of its red color. Most palm bunches have a branch of juniper in them. Juniper is green year round, with late ripening berries and with a peculiar odor. All these plants are principal components of palms, however cranberry, mistletoe, filbert and oak branches together with dried baby's breath and ferns are among the odd numbered pieces in the palm. Pussy willows, hepaticas and some indoor plants are added to give color to the palms. When Christianity was established in Lithuania, palms were consecrated in church. The ancient tradition of whipping each other with palms, still exists, takes place on Palm Sunday or on Easter Sunday.

Having returned home with consecrated palms, one whips the head, back shoulders of those who stayed home, repeating all the time, "illness out, health return". The following words were spoken or sung, when striking with the palm:

I am not the one striking
The Palm is striking
You are not in pain
The Palm is in pain
Soon it will be Easter

Or

It is not I who is thrashing, but the rod
It will thrash until it breaks
The great day is in a week
It will entertain everyone
Remain the same as you have been
Be healthy as a fish.

The first lines of these charm words are the same throughout Lithuania, the rest changes. Ancient writings of 1573 say that to protect from devils and thunder, crosses were made from the consecrated palms and were thrust behind doors, windows and gated. Most often the palms were placed behind pictures of saints until the junipers dried and began shedding. The juniper branches are burned and together with juniper sheddings are placed in attics to protect roofs from storms. As thunder knocks, a palm is placed on the windowsill, on the side of the storm. The smoke of a burning palm, scents all corners of the house and protects from thunder. Palms were nailed to beehives so that bees would swarm in great numbers. Palms were tied with colored, wooly yarns. This yarn was used to bind women's wrists, to keep away pain. That was the most popular healing method during harvest work. Before animals were let out of barns in the spring, they were incensed with a burning palm. It was also said that if a palm was planted near water and it began to sprout, there would be no water shortage. Here are several interesting beliefs: – he who goes to church on Palm Sunday without a palm in his hands, the devil will shove his tail into the hands.
– collecting branches to make palms, select those with many buds. The more buds, the longer will be your life.
– if you plant consecrated palms on both river banks, when it is the end of the world and all waters vanish, there will be drinking water where the palms are growing.
– one should not comb hair on Palm Sunday, because fleas will grow to the size of the palm, or buds on the branches.
– if the palm lasts three years, then when black clouds cover the skies, take the palm and cross the clouds with it.
– old palms should be burned and their ashes sprinkled over cabbages, to protect them from worms.

Palms of Vilnius (Vilnaus verbos)

It is an old Lithuanian custom to make verbas (Palm Sunday flowers) from the twigs of certain trees and bushes. This custom has been passed down from ancient times, when people believed in the magic power of some plants to revive the earth after winter to give people health, and to protect them from disasters. Later this custom as reinterpreted and came to signify Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. People take Palm Sunday flowers to church to be blessed and then display them at home in a special place. People still believe that the blessed flowers bring health and happiness to the inhabitants.

Among Lithuanian verba, those made in the Vilnius area are distinctive and stand out for their remarkable colorfulness and form. They are real works of art made of various kinds of meadow grass and flowers, ears of rye and other plants. All in all, about 45 species of meadow, forest, water and garden plants are used. The plants for verba are gathered during different seasons and are dried until it is time to use them.

Now Vilnius' palm production takes place in fifteen villages of Vilnius region. Painters were among the first to show interest in palms. In 1847 K. Ruseckas painted a young girl with a bunch of palms held in her hands and in 1913 he represented palms in colorful folk art and trade show posters. The origin of Palms of Vilnius has not been determined. It is thought that they could have been ancient Vilnius trade guilds' processional adornments, manufactured mimicking Jesus' entry into Jerusalem. Vilnius' Palms are created using dried wild plants, forest and garden blossoms and other plant parts. About thirty different plants are used, among them are mosses, berry greens, timothy grass, St. John's worth, tansy, yarrow and many others. 

The making of palms begins the day after Shrove Tuesday and continues till Palm Sunday. This is a project that involves the entire family, however most often it is women's work. The most popular palms are roller shaped. Now there are wreath and whip shaped, flat and puffed out.  

The palms are made this way: take a straight nut tree branch, 30-40 cm.[ 12-16 in.] long, begin tying from the top with thread, to hold the numerous plants. The top is usually composed of bent grasses and reeds. Some use oat wisps, rye or barley ears. Twisting the palm to the right, different plants are added and arrangements made. Small wreaths, of various sizes are added at different levels. 

The shape of flat palms, a reminder of bird feathers, is tied of timothy grass and grain ears, took shape in 1970. Later, in 1979, in the village of Kriauèiunai, huge 2 meter/ 80 inch long palms were created, using a paper cylinder filled with dried plant scraps, with a wide crown of reeds and a continuous wreath with blossoms between.  
Ancient traditional palms are not long, they measure 30-40 cm.[ 12-16 inches ] . 

(Information from VILNIUS' PALMS by J.Kudirka) 

Category : Lithuania today



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