14 April 2014

Palm Weaving

Palm Sunday always brings back childhood memories of watching my mother braiding palms taken home from church that day. I remember sitting near her so I could watch while she worked on this fascinating project. Sometimes it was a breeze for her to bend and manipulate the palms into the woven cone shape, but there were years in which the process of starting the weave escaped her memory, which led to some frustration on her part.

There is a universality that comes with being Roman Catholic, and around the world, the Catholic culture has familiarity to its congregants. At the end of my high school years, I spent a week doing service learning at the Red Lake Indian Reservation's Catholic mission. In the house of the religious sisters with whom we stayed, there were chalk markings above all of the door frames, put there to bless the house at the beginning of the year. This is a rather Catholic tradition, but whenever I see the markings elsewhere, it always brings me back to that house. After graduating high school, I spent about three weeks in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. Despite my German language skills not being quite fluent enough to catch everything that was said in Mass, I was capable enough to pick up "Gott seid dank" (Thanks be to God) in the responses, among a few other phrases, because the Mass is the same in every language. My experiences in Germany, attending Mass once at a small chapel in the middle of a grove and once at the cathedral in Berlin, proved just how catholic (i.e. universal) the Roman church can be.

Keeping braided palms around the house is part of this Catholic culture, and I continue to practice it just as my parents and grandparents did. When I was younger, I tended to associate this tradition with yet another oddly rural thing my family still observed, but in reality it is not so much rural as it is a German and Polish Catholic tradition, which makes sense why my family did it. Sadly, it is starting to become a lost art. That is the thing with traditions; they are only continued if they are passed down to the next generation.
If palms are kept in the refrigerator after Palm Sunday, one will still be able to braid later in the week, but the longer one waits, the less malleable the palm fronds become. The tutorial here is for the square cone weave, the type of braid commonly found around my parents' and grandparents' homes when I was a child.

First things first, do not let cats eat the palms. Seriously, these are blessed. Also, they cannot digest them,
speaking from personal experience of cats getting into things they are not supposed to have.

Peel off the hard green edge of the palm fronds to have an easier time weaving.

For the cone weave, find four relatively similar sized palm fronds.

Secure the bottom ends somehow. I used tape this time; I have used a paper clip or a stapler other times.

Divide the palm fronds, pointing them in toward north, south, east, and west directions. Tip: my outside fronds
were my north and south palms.

Fold the south palm to the north. This will be the new north palm.

Fold the north palm to the south. This will be the new south palm.

Fold the east palm over the new north palm but under the new south palm.

Pull the east palm taught. This will be the new west palm.

Fold the west palm over the south palm but under the north palm. This will be the new east palm.

There should be a relatively loose weave starting to look something like this. Make sure to pull it taught
before continuing your braid.

Start with the east palm; fold it over to the west. Braid clockwise first.

Fold the south palm to the north.

Fold the west palm to the east.

To secure the weave, fold the north palm over the new east palm but under the new west palm.

Pull the weave taught. The first step of this braid is complete.

Start with the east palm again; fold it over to the west. Braid counterclockwise this time.

Fold the north palm to the south.

Fold the west palm to the east.

To secure the weave, fold the south palm over the new east palm but under the new west palm.

Pull the weave taught. The second step of the weave is complete.

Continue working clockwise then counterclockwise, always beginning with the east palm. After a few weaves,
the square cone shape will start to take form. 

When there is not much left to the palm fronds, stop the weave. Pull the palm fronds taught.

Gather the top ends together into a bunch.

Tie the loose ends off in a simple knot.

Ta da! The woven palm cone is complete. Place it anywhere around the home as a remembrance.

The easy thing about this weave is that it is really just repeating the same steps over again. The trickiest part is remembering how to start the weave by dividing the fronds into north, south, east, and west directions. The first folds can be difficult to hold together, but once the weave has a few secured braids completed, it is easy as pie. For other versions of palm weaving, there is a book published by the Franciscan Sisters, from near the area of Minnesota in which my father was raised. Palm Weaving by Sister Cecilia Schmitt, or a transcript of the book, is a good resource.

The Donkey
G. K. Chesterson

When fishes flew and forests walked
And figs grew upon thorn,
Some moment when the moon was blood
Then surely I was born.

With monstrous head and sickening cry
And ears like errant wings,
The devil's walking parody
On all four-footed things.

The tattered outlaw of the earth,
Of ancient crooked will;
Starve, scourge, deride me: I am dumb,
I keep my secret still.

Fools! For I also had my hour;
One far fierce hour and sweet:
There was a shout about my ears,
And palms before my feet.

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