Christians around the world today celebrate Palm Sunday, which observes and commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus Christ into Jerusalem a week before his crucifixion and, after that, resurrection. The name comes from Bible verses that describe how crowds greeted Jesus with palm branches as he entered the city, waving them and laying them before him.

“The next day the large crowd that had come to the feast heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem,” reads a passage from the Gospel of St. John. “So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, crying out, ‘Hosanna [Save]! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!’” In Biblical times, palm branches were symbols of goodness and victory.

In the Gospel of St. Matthew, Jesus in his return is described as being greeted by a large group of people who spread their cloaks on the road in front of him, “while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.” Other passages describing Jesus’ return to Jerusalem can be found in the Gospels of St. Mark and St. Luke in the New Testament.

Today, Christians observe this holiday with processions and blessings of palms within churches. Some churches are quite lively with their services, such as holding outdoor processions that include a live donkey. In parts of the world where palm branches are not available, branches from local trees are used instead, including those from olive trees, box, spruce, and willows.

"And you shall take to you on the first day the fruits of the fairest tree, and branches of palm trees, and boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook: And you shall rejoice before the Lord your God," reads Leviticus 23:40.

Once the services are over, because they are blessed, the palms or branches are not thrown away but rather saved to be burned for use in Ash Wednesday services the next year. Palm Sunday also marks the beginning of the final week of Lent, which ends on Easter Sunday. This year, Easter will be April 5.