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What do Christians celebrate on Palm Sunday?

Posted April 5, 2020 3:01 a.m. EDT

— On Palm Sunday, Christians throughout the world celebrate the day Jesus triumphantly entered Jerusalem days before his crucifixion.

Crowds left palm fronds and clothing in his path as a sign of praise and respect.

But millions of American Christians will observe Palm Sunday at home this year, as the coronavirus pandemic has forced most US churches to hold services online because of stay-at-home orders.

Here's what you need to know about the Sunday that launches the holiest days for the world's Christians:

When is it celebrated?

Palm Sunday is the last Sunday of Lent and first day of Holy Week in Christian churches. It falls on the Sunday before Easter and is always a movable feast.

Who celebrates Palm Sunday?

It is celebrated in all major Christian churches, including Roman Catholic and Protestant. In Orthodox churches, which follow the Julian calender, Palm Sunday is celebrated later.

Why does Palm Sunday matter to Christians?

The day marks Jesus' monumental arrival in Jerusalem, the start of the march to his death on a wooden cross. It's also known as Passion Sunday in honor his suffering and death before his resurrection.

How is it observed?

Palm Sunday is often celebrated with processions and distribution of blessed palm leaves.

In some churches, the palms are saved and burned into ashes to be used on Ash Wednesday of the next year. Some Christians fold the palm fronds into crosses and keep them in their homes.

The Vatican announced this week that the liturgical celebrations of Pope Francis from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday will take place before empty pews in St. Peter's Basilica.

Sunday's papal Mass used to draw thousands of pilgrims from around the world to the sprawling square at the Vatican.

St. Peter's Square is eerily empty of tourists and pilgrims.

How will the day be celebrated during the pandemic?

The coronavirus health crisis has forced faith leaders to come up with new ways to observe the holy day -- from streaming video and audio to palms dipped in bleach to volunteers in protective garb handing out sanitized palms to passing cars.

Last month, a pastor at a Louisiana church was charged for continuing to hold services, defying a local bans on gatherings of 50 or more people. And in Florida, an evangelical pastor was arrested for holding large services at Tampa megachurch.

Like sports leagues, museums and other cultural institutions, millions of churches and mosques, synagogues and sanghas, temples and gurdwaras are temporarily closing to guard against spreading the virus.

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