As a child, I loved Palm Sunday. While the rest of Lent focused on what we were “giving up,” we actually “got” something on Palm Sunday—a gift from heaven, as it were. Maybe I loved it because it tended to arrive just as spring began to push back winter. In my elementary years, we lived in Brunswick, Maine, where each sign of spring, however brief, was relished and noted: a waft of warm air, the return of the robins, the arrival of the forsythia, and Palm Sunday. Maybe because it signaled that Easter was near, which meant a new dress and hat.
But, in the end ,what really made the day special was that magical palm, “the present from church” that came into our house and stayed with us all year long as a physical symbol and reminder—of who we were, of what we believed, of the cycle of the church year, and of Jesus.
My mother is half Italian and half Irish, the classic Roman Catholic one-two punch. In her parents’ home, as in ours, the palm was not folded into a cross, but left as a frond and carefully placed at an angle behind the corner of the bedroom mirror, where it would stay all year. There were palm fronds in the bedrooms of my grandparents’ house, in my parents’ bedroom, and in the one I shared with my older sister. To place the palm thus so, behind the mirror, and to feel its steady presence linked me to many things—to my family’s heritage as Roman Catholics and Christians of a particular kind; to my grandparents and my mom, as I knew this tradition came from “her side”; and to Jesus as someone real, someone who I loved and who loved me, and of course the most important person EVER (though I think my grandmother would have preferred the Virgin Mary in that category).
For me, the annual ritual of the palm created a sense-memory that still remains. Receiving the palm at church, walking home with it in my hand, placing it behind the mirror, seeing it every day—this simple object held within it so many feelings and grounded me in who I was and who I might aspire to be (like Jesus, of course!).
Episcopal schools, like churches, are places of repeated rituals and symbolic objects that can raise us up, center us, inspire us, or affirm us. If we have done our job well, there is for each of our students, families, faculty and staff members some school-year equivalent of my childhood’s Palm Sunday.
Spring is here. The palms shall once again find their way into our homes. Easter will be prepared. The Passover table will be set. How are we creating create sacred moments and sensory memories that will sustain our students year after year?