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Palm Sunday brought an end to the long Lenten Season and started Holy Week.  

It was one of those holidays that we celebrated with great solemnity, honoring our traditions.
On the morning of Palm Sunday, the bells of the village were rung and the sound resonated throughout the valley. The farmers came up to the village with branches of olive trees twisted into a garland and adorned with bouquets of flowers. People would get up early to prepare and make decorations out of palms and olive branches, then have them blessed or they exchanged them with family and friends.
The most beautifully decorated branches were brought to the church by the country girls. They followed a long and elaborate tradition to decorate the simple olive branches. The little leaves could be twisted and enriched with brilliantly colored ribbons and flowers. During Palm Sunday, the violets were in full bloom under the bush on the side of the road and the girls would make bouquets with them and tie them to the branches. Their contrasting colors were really pretty. They brought them in their hands with their arms raised above their heads: I do not know if it was to show everybody their work or to offer them to the Lord.
In those days, women dressed in traditional Ciociaria costumes: a long skirt and a white embroidered shirt. Over their skirt, they wore the “scolla” which was a silk ribbon with a very thin lace. It was worn over the shoulders to form an elegant little scarf. Around the neck, they had a long coral necklace and on their heads, they wore a headscarf tied under their long braids.  

During the holiday days, the girls did not wear the long skirt with the black apron and the cioce as their mothers did before them. Now they wore nice fashionable dresses. The skirts were large and the shirts were embroidered and adorned with lace. A sprig of delicately colored flowers adorned the neckline of the shirt; I don't know if it was to cover the neckline since it was quite deep or to attract attention towards the point where the shirt was tightest. Very often the girls would adorn even their long hair with delicately colored flowers which were in contrast with their black hair.

They had to walk quite a bit from the countryside to the village to attend the Mass, along rocky and muddy pathways which were full of thorny bushes. In order not to wear out their new shoes, they would walk barefoot and put their shoes on just before entering the church. They were really beautiful. The young boys were lined up along the loggia of the church to stare at them as they arrived.


After the Mass, people exchanged the Palms as a symbol of friendship and traditionally, daughters-in-law offered the Palm to their mothers-in-law as a sign of humility and as a promise to maintain peace in the family. 

Farmers planted a blessed branch hoping for a prosperous year. 
Palms were stored for a year and then they were burned and their ashes were spread in the chimney.

However, the strangest use of the blessed branch I saw was in the house of a good and religious family a long time ago. When I was visiting, I saw a multicolored calendar written in English that was hanging on the wall. Above the calendar, there was a olive tree branch which covered the dates and the images. The pages were regularly turned every month but the branch covered everything. I was always curious and one day I started to look at the calendar and lifted the branch to see the date. The lady of the house became agitated and yelled at me saying “No, put the branch back and cover the calendar”, but it was too late; I had already seen it. Under the branch there was the image of a beautiful semi-naked woman. Irritated, the woman put the branch back and said “She is scandalous. Did you see how she is?” And she was right: the woman showed her beautiful body with her naked breasts. The woman had covered it with the palm to “hide it from the eyes of God as well as from people”. She thought that somehow the blessed olive branch had brought the woman back to the “pathway of righteousness.” Some time later, I learned that that calendar was a famous calendar for which Marilyn Monroe had posed.  


 Delia Socci Skidmore