THE RESURRECTION AND THE WILLOW
Palm Sunday, which is called Flowery Sunday or Willow Sunday in the Eastern Churches of Byzantine/Slavic liturgical tradition, is observed by many customs unique to the Slavs. The most important of these is the ritual use of flowering willow branches (pussy willows) in the processions of that day. Conventional wisdom has it that the Eastern Slavs used pussy willows because palm trees do not grow in northern Europe. While it is true that palm trees do not grow in northern Europe, that fact has no bearing on the Slavic customs associated with Flowery Sunday. The pre-Christian Slavs endowed the pussy willow with energizing properties. The willow haralded the end of harsh winter and the renewal of spring, while protecting people and livestock from diseases, the homes from lightening and misfortune and by fostering the fertility of man and beast.
With the conversion of the Slavs to Christianity, their willow customs were often adapted to the requirements of the new faith, finding application in the processions of Flowery Sunday to recall Our Lord's triumphant entry into Jerusalem, but more properly going beyond Great and Holy Week as a unitive symbol of the renewal of life fully revealed in the Glorious Resurrection. Thus we see in the folk art and customs associated with the Resurrection the use of flowering willows as a decorative item on pisanki cloths and on the Easter baskets and table, and for the remainder of the year they were placed behind the icons and crucifixes. Crosses made of blessed willow branches were buried in the ground to protect the crops for hail. Children swallowed the catkins as remedy for colds and the branches, which contain acetylsalicylic acid (aspirin) were boiled and the infusion drunk to treat pains and fever. The faithful were encouraged to plant the willow branches used in the processions of Flowery Sunday around their homes and outbuildings to protect man and beast from harm. Many of these quasi-sacramental uses of the willow persist to this day.
More important to Eastern Christians of Byzantine/Slavic liturgical tradition are the quasi-liturgical customs, many of which found their way to America with the migration of Slavs from Europe. Those customs like many other religious traditions derive from and support important doctrines of the faith and, interestingly, are found among most Slavs whether Orthodox, Greek Catholic or Roman Catholic. When one sees Ruthenians, Russians or Ukrainians striking one another on the shoulder on Flowery Sunday with the willow branch and reciting the verse: "It is not I but the willow branch which strikes you to remind you that in seven days is the Great Day", we are all reminded by the willow branch as symbol of life that Christ is risen from the dead, that by His death He trampled death and to those in the graves He granted life.
There are many folk verses associated with the ritual use of willows on Flowery Sunday and below are a few.