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Palm Sunday flowers of the Vilnius region

Palm Sunday flowers are not very widely spread. They are made in villages to the north of Vilnius and are also known among the Lithuanian emigrants in Chicago and in western Poland. During the season which lasts from Shrove Tuesday to Palm Sunday the estimated 150 folk masters produce about 50,000 Palm Sunday flowers which they sell on Palm Sunday morning in front of the churches of Vilnius - St. Peter and Paul's church, St. Jame's church and others - as well as in the lane in front of the Ausra Gate, which practically turns into a forest of Palm Sunday flowers. Since the early 60's Palm Sunday flowers have become a commodity at the Kaziukas Fair, held in Vilnius at the weekend nearest to March 4.

It is supposed that the first Palm Sunday flowers appeared in the Middle Ages to enliven festive processions. In the second quarter of the 19th century they were already wide-spread, but they were mostly used for decorative purposes and never had the same ritual function as the Palm Sunday bunches of willow, yew and other green twigs had.

Palm Sunday flowers are made of field, forest, water and garden plants. At the present time 45 kinds of plants are known to be used for this purpose. 11 kinds of plants (mostly reeds) go for the heads alone. Preparations for the production of Palm Sunday flowers begin in July. Women and children start collecting cudweeds, rye and oat ears, timothy grass, immortelles and other plants in summer. The brightness of the colours depends not only on the kind of the plant bus also on the time when it was picked. The plants are spread or hung in bunches in attics to dry and wait till they are used to make Palm Sunday flowers. Mosses, lichens, various lycopodiums are collected just before making Palm Sunday flowers.

Palm Sunday flowers have several shapes, that of a rolling pin, a wreath or a rod. They may be flat or irregularly shaped. All Palm Sunday flowers are started in the same way. A bunch of reeds and bents is tied to the top of a 30-to-50 centimeter long nut-tree rod and then dried plants and flowers (sprinkled with water so that they should not crumble) are arranged down the rod and fixed to it tightly with a thread.

Rolling-pin-shaped Palm Sunday flowers are the most popular. Dry blossoms and plants are arranged below the head in rings of different colours around the stem. In the second decade of the present century came the custom of dipping the plants in aniline dye. In this way up to seven colours can be used on a single Palm Sunday flower. The smaller Palm Sunday flowers contain from 10 to 12 rings, the longer ones may have as many as 18 or 21 rings. About 2500 blossoms go to make a flower with 21 rings. At the beginning of the 20th century rings on a Palm Sunday flowers were sometimes arranged in a spiral way. The 30's saw the appearance of Palm Sunday flowers with plants arranged down the stem in complicated ornamental patterns.

Rod-like Palm Sunday flowers are the simplest and the smallest. Tiny blossoms of the same size of 2 or 3 colours are tied to a thin rod. Sometimes the blossoms are interspersed with grasses. This kind of Palm Sunday flowers are often made by children.

Flat Palm Sunday flowers are made of rye ears and timothy grass. Very often they are dyed. Their shape reminds of a bird's feather. The first flowers of this shape appeared in 1970. On both sides of the stem a rye ear or a timothy grass is fastened and this goes down and down to produce a flower of a desired size. Between the rye ears dry blossoms of mortelles are fixed. Since blossoms of different colours are fixed on the front and back side of the flower, it looks different when viewed from the front and from the back. The top ears are very often bent to the stem to produce a heartshaped frame.

In the 80's another arrangement of dry plants on a stem was in- vented: bunches of rye ears are fixed in such a way that they remind of a bell turned upside down and filled with flowers. The invention of new shapes of Palm Sunday flowers never ends. The latest invention consists in 3 or 4 thickenings on the stem, called St. Casimir's crowns, which taper toward the bottom. The recent years have seen the appearance of branching Palm Sunday flowers which remind of a palm.

Wreath-shaped Palm Sunday flowers appeared in the 20's of the present century. They are often used to adorn graves, or stuck behind pictures in the corner of a room.

Although there are not very many kinds of Palm Sunday flowers, their variety is infinite due to the different skills and tastes of the masters. Each of them has his own beloved methods and patterns in which they arrange dry plants around a wooden rod.

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Copyright , 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.