The Sunday before Easter, often called Palm Sunday, reminds us of Christ’s entering Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover. We picture Him riding a donkey, with crowds scattering palm branches along His path.
Many people think that palm branches were used because there were so many palm trees in that part of the world, but there were more reasons than that for choosing them. The palm branch was the emblem of Judea and appeared on the coins of that land, thus symbolizing one of the riches of that country. When Jesus entered Jerusalem, it was when the trees were in bloom, so in covering the way with palm branches, the people were offering a symbol of luxury.
It was a symbol of necessity too. To the Jews, palm branches represented a gift from God because of its many uses in their lives. The palm was so important in that area that when countries there went to war, the first thing they did was cut away the palm branches, causing their enemy to suffer the loss of food and livelihood (jobs).
This important tree has many different species (kinds of trees), ranging in size from less than ten feet (3 m) to over one hundred feet (30 m) high. The date palm supplied dates, of course. The coconut palm supplied both coconut and coconut milk. The sap of the sugar palm was dried, beaten, and ground into very fine sugar. Its leaves could also be boiled and used as a vegetable. The trunk of the sago palm supplied a strong starch that was ground into flour and made into unleavened bread.
Palm trees had almost no waste parts. Their coarse fiber was used to make brooms, mats, and baskets; their fine fiber was used to make sewing thread, and their heaviest fiber was used to make strong ropes for ships. Palm oils have been made into both butter and soap.
Coconut shells, too, were used. Fine bowls, cooking utensils, even tools were made from them. The timber of some palms was resistant to rot and salt water and was especially good for making boats.
The seeds of palms were boiled into a medicinal drink or were dried and eaten as nuts. If they were allowed to dry a long time, they became as hard as rock and transparent, and made durable beads and trinkets.
The palm’s yellowish-white flowers had an odor similar to that of violets, and they were made into perfume. The lovely, waxy flowers also were worn by the women as decorative headdresses.
Strewing palm branches at Jesus’ feet was, then, a symbol of the giving up of worldly goods, both necessities and luxuries.