Palm Sunday sheaf

An ancient celebration of Spring and Easter

The custom of celebrating Spring with the making of a sheaf of greenery and plants precedes Christian times. With the advent of Christianity the custom incorporated the commemoration of Christ's entry into Jerusalem and the palm fronds that were strewn before Jesus as he walked in the city. Today, this custom is celebrated throughout Slovenia with the making of the butara, and taking it to church for blessing. It is first recorded in the ninth century as a Christian custom.

The size of the butara varies in different areas of Slovenia, and known by different names. In some regions they may be several metres long. They are adorned with greenery; such as box, twigs of heather, honeysuckle, spring flowers, coloured strips of wood shavings; and in recent times decorated also with oranges and apples. The components are gathered in the winter months as soon as available. In the areas where large butaras are made, a large butara must consist of seven different types of wood; hazelwood, flowering dogwood, juniper branches, elder, box, ivy, and pussy willows. 

A small version of the butara are the Ljubljana butaricas which are unique in form and style. This has become the stylised version of the butara tradition and is sold as the representative form of the traditional butara.They are prepared by craftsmen, and families who bring them to the market in Ljubljana during the week preceding Palm Sunday.They are generally very small, to be held in the hand, neatly bound together with coloured wood shavings and greenery. The woodshavings are coloured; red, yellow, blue, white, and violet. The hazel switch is used for the frame, and greenery includes box, heather, honeysuckle, and juniper. After blessing in church, the butarica is usually meant as a decoration in the home.

Ancient customs associated with the butara have been preserved to the present day. Some record has been made of the many ancient practices, which varied from region to region. After the blessing in church, the butara was kept at home for the rest of the year for good fortune and to ward off unwanted ills. In many regions of Slovenia, it was the custom for the boys to rush home with the butara after church on Palm Sunday, remove the leaves and offer them to the farm-animals for good health. Whoever in the village was first to offer from the blessed butara, was to have healthy livestock for the rest of the year. Then the mother took the leaves to the attic of the house and placed them between the rafters, to protect the home against fire and lightning. In the north the boys returned home with the blessed sheaves, circled the home three times to protect the home from fire and lightning. In the east, the custom was upon returning from church to burn some branches of the sheaf in the house against evil.


Kuret, Niko, Praznično leto Slovencev - prva knjiga, Družina, Ljubljana, 1989