Religion was a big part of my life growing up. Even now, words like Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter Sunday stir fond memories. Silly, but still fond. The power of a ritual is stronger than we care to acknowledge. It’s why we still have religion. All of us still pray to an imaginary god. The first thing most of us do in the morning, here in the ‘civilised world’ is to grab our smartphones and check social media. It’s a ritual which for some has evolved into an addiction. In the old desolate world of religion, where I grew up, the ritual of the media is still observed, but so is the ritual of church going, mass and prayer.
Palm Sunday is the Sunday when, according to scriptures, Jesus enters Jerusalem on the back of a donkey. He was hailed as a hero. People carried palm branches and placed them in his path to express their devotion and awe towards him. He was hailed as the Messiah, son of God, King of Judea. “Hosanna!” they would shout. I knew that word as a child, but I hadn’t learned the full meaning of it, the blind and fanatical devotion to an idea. Less than a week later he would be captured, tried and crucified. Or so the scriptures say. In my country we don’t have palm trees. Instead, my grandmother, together with all the ladies in the village, at the instigation of the priest, would bring willow branches to church. These would be blessed and turned into special willow branches. Once sanctified, they would be taken back home and pleated around the icons on the wall. My grandmother still has a special wall on which she’s pinned up a large number of icons to which she prays daily. The wall is facing east of course. It is believed that east, where the sun rises, is where Heaven is. Yes, sunset is where Hell resides, with all its dangerous devils that tempt people into doing bad deeds.
Superstition is a human construct without which most of us can’t live. The superstitious rituals around Easter made this holiday almost as special as Christmas and the memories of it all the more bittersweet. Even though I was a child, I was made to keep Lent, to give up sweets and other favourite dishes, to purify my sinful soul. Palm Sunday marked the fact that there was only a week to go before we could all binge on incredibly rich and fatty foods. My mum and grandmother would spend the entire week between Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday cooking industrial amounts of food, which nobody was allowed to even taste until the designated time – 5 am on Sunday, right after returning from church, having “gotten the divine Resurrection light!”
Religion is more ritual than belief. We do it almost automatically, without thinking, just as we grab our phones in the morning to check social media. It doesn't make us better people, but it does bring a level of comfort without which some minds would be lost.