Easter: The Pucher Palmesel & Holy Week

Unique Easter customs in Salzburgerland

by Barbara / 07. April 2022 / Event / Tradition
Pucher Palmesel © TVB Puch - Gerber

How Easter is celebrated in the Tennengau

The coming Palm Sunday marks the beginning of Holy Week, which ends again on Holy Saturday before Easter Sunday. During this "Holy Week", the Church reminds us why and how the Son of God died and rose again. Read on and find out which Easter traditions await you here in the Tennengau during Holy Week and what special story is hidden behind the Pucher Palmesel!

Palm Sunday - the start of Holy Week

On Palm Sunday, Christians celebrate Jesus" entry with the donkey into Jerusalem, where the cheering people waved palm branches in his honour. Already there, Jesus knew that the betrayed and must die. Likewise, he predicts that he will rise from the dead after three days. Jesus went to the temple, spread his teachings and healed people until he was betrayed by the Pharisee.

Palm Sunday, as the start of the school-free Holy Week, is in itself a special feast day. Days before, the palm bouquets are often tied by family and friends or bought in a flower shop like i Helga`s Blumenwerk. In Puch, there is something very special about the Pucher Palmesel.

Pucher Palmesel © Helga Spilka

In order to represent the entry into Jerusalem, the custom arose in the Middle Ages that bishops and village priests rode on a donkey during the Palm procession. Due to the sometimes petulant behaviour of donkeys, however, the live animal was later replaced in many places by a wooden donkey with a figure of Christ.

Such processional figures brought the Bible stories closer to the non-reading people at that time. Later, during the Enlightenment, the custom was banned and most palm donkeys were destroyed. In Austria, only in Puch near Salzburg and in Thaur in Tirol have the special palm mules been preserved. As you can see in the picture, in Tyrol the Palmesel is driven by the altar boys and not carried as in our country.

Palmesel Thaur© Tourismusverband Hallwattens

The Pucher Palmesel parades through Puch

The Pucher Palmesel, unique in Salzburgerland, is taken from the Puch parish church early in the morning of Palm Sunday every year and the poles are securely mounted for carrying. Four boys from the local Trachtenverein D`Puachstoana have the honour of carrying the wooden Pucher Palmesel through the village for the procession. "That this is possible, however, is not only thanks to fate - but also, above all, to the tradition-conscious citizens of Pucher - who have always taken great care of the Pucher Palmesel.

The story of the Pucher Palmesel from Salzburg

In the Age of Enlightenment, all processions with folk figures were banned around 1742 by Archbishop Hieronymus Colloredo as "theatrical representations of liturgical events" and all palm donkeys in the Salzburg region had to be destroyed. During this time, the people of Pucher fished a donkey out of the Salzach, which was allowed to come from Hallein. Since it was not allowed, the donkey was hidden at the Kollerbauer"s farm in the middle of town. It was not until the Romantic period, at the end of the 18th century, that the first palm processions took place again.

Laut Pucher Gemeindechronik (1998, Gerhard Ammerer, Oswald Reiche, Rainer Wilfinger) wurde der Palmesel jeden Samstag vor dem Palmsonntag vom Kollerbauer geholt und unter Gebeten zur Pfarrkirche getragen. Nach der Prozession verblieb der Pucher Palmesel noch 3 Tage bis Mittwoch vor dem Gründonnerstag zur Verehrung in der Pfarrkirche. Diese Form des religiösen Brauchtums blieb bis zur NS-Zeit nahezu unverändert bis sich die Prozessionsfigur zu dieser Zeit nochmals verstecken musste. Danach spendete der Kollerbauer den hölzernen Esel mit Christusfigur der Pfarrkirche mit der Auflage, dass die Figur nicht veräußert werden darf. Seitdem wird der Pucher Palmesel einmal jährlich am Palmsonntag aus der Kirche geholt und durch das Dorf getragen.

Tip: the Pucher Palmesel can be viewed all year round at the entrance to the Pfarrkirche Puch in the bell house.

Pucher Palmesel im Gockhaus © TVB Puch - Gerber

What does the Pucher Palmesel look like?

The 400-year-old wooden statue hardly shows its eventful history: The palm donkey, which weighs around 50 kg, consists of a figure of Christ 77 cm high and a donkey 88 cm high and 138 cm long. The bridle made of cowrie shells and the festive robe that the Christ figure wears only on Palm Sunday for the procession are special - as is a tuft of fresh palm branches.

Pucher Palmesel © TVB Puch - Gerber

The Palm Procession

On Palm Sunday, the parish priest, the altar servers and the Pucher palm donkey leave the church for the Kirchenwirt, where the people of Pucher have gathered at the car park and are waiting for the palm consecration at the festively decorated altar.

After the blessing of the palm bouquets, the churchgoers then march together with the Pucher Palmesel to the senior citizens" residence, where the festivities then end and you can buy one of the delicious gingerbread palmesels when you go home. (In case of rain, the whole celebration takes place in the parish church).

Lebkuchen Pucher Palmesel © Pfarre Puch

The video from the Salzburger Nachrichten shows you what the Pucher Palmesel procession looked like in 2016:

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Palm Sunday in St. Jakob am Thurn

Like in all other parishes in the whole province of Salzburg, Palm Sunday is celebrated with a procession in St. Jakob am Thurn. After the consecration of the palms at the church square, the festive service takes place in the pilgrimage church after a small procession.

Palmsonntag © TVB Puch - Gerber

Palm bouquets

On Palm Sunday, a palm bouquet made of evergreen branches and palm catkins must not be missing. The bouquet of various shrubs and branches, such as willow palm catkins, boxwood, juniper, yew, cedar, sade tree and holly, is tied into a "bush" and placed on a stick of hazelnut bush. Since the 20th century, the palm bouquets have also been decorated in different ways. In the Tennengau, mostly with small salt pretzels and (colourful) slices of wood.

Immergrün Palmbuschen  © TVB Puch - Gerber

There is no fixed size and each branch has its traditional meaning. The hazelnut branch protects against lightning, the yew against witches and the juniper against the plague. In the Tennengau, the boys also like to carry a decorated "palm branch" rather than a bunch of bushes tied together. These are so large that the young bearer can just about hold and carry them. In the past, the size of the "palm" also showed the wealth of the court.

The consecrated palm bush is considered to bring salvation and blessings. At home, on the following Good Friday, before sunrise, the palm bush is put into the ground in the field or garden. This is supposed to encourage the harvest and ward off bad luck, such as hail. Others place the bush in front of the house door or in the "Herrgottswinkel" to protect it from illness or lightning. This is the place where the usually wooden Jesus cross is placed or hung - mainly in the corner near the large dining table in the kitchen.

TIP: if you still need a palm bush, Blumenwerk Helga has a great selection in different sizes and colours. There is also a sale of palm bouquets on Friday at the parish of Puch and on Sunday at the parish of St. Jakob!

Blumenwerk Helga © TVB Puch - Gerber

Holy Week continues - what happens from Maundy Thursday to Easter Monday?

Even if Palm Sunday with the Pucher Palmesel is something special for Puch in the whole of Austria, there are still other customs and traditions at Easter. Or do you know what a crown consecration is or why no bells ring on Good Friday? Read on and find out more about Holy Week here in the Tennengau.

Maundy Thursday

Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, which Jesus celebrated together with his disciples. The focus of a Maundy Thursday Mass is the celebration of the Eucharist, the breaking of the bread and the blessing of the wine. At the end of the Mass, the bells fall silent. In popular belief, it is said that the bells fly to Rome to be consecrated there. As a substitute, so-called rattles, wooden revolving instruments that produce a loud noise, are used during the services on the following days. The organ is only used again during Matins on Easter Eve, in the place of the "Gloria". On Maundy Thursday, people like to eat green dishes such as spinach with fried egg and potato.

Good Friday

There is no solemn service in church on Good Friday. On the anniversary of the death of Jesus Christ, the bells are silent, the altar is cleared and the pictures are covered with a cloth. The Good Friday liturgies take place at 3 pm. Along with Ash Wednesday, Good Friday is a required day of fasting and abstinence. Traditionally, the "Ratschenkinder" parade around the parish church in Puch and in St. Jakob from house to house.

Ratsche © Canva AvatarKnowmad

Don"t forget: before sunrise on Good Friday, the consecrated palm bush is put outside!

Holy Saturday

In the Christian faith, Holy Saturday is the day of remembrance of the burial and the last day of Lent. In the evening, this special Easter Vigil features an extensive Liturgy of the Word, which starts in the dark and the faithful sit in church with only a little candlelight. The highlight of the Easter Vigil is then the celebration of the Eucharist and the Gloria, where the bells ring again. On this night, the new Easter candle is lit for the first time with the consecrated Easter fire, the baptismal water is renewed and the Easter food, usually brought in a basket, is consecrated.

In St. Jakob there is also the special custom of the "consecration of the crown". The men from the village place a log on the fire lit in the church square and let it burn for a while. Before the festivities start in the church, the pieces of wood are consecrated by the parish priest and then taken home by the men, where the crowns are hung up to ensure good luck & blessings.

Scheitelweihe Karsamstag © TVB Puch - Gerber

Easter Sunday

On Easter Sunday, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus with a festive service and consecration of food. At home, after Lent, the faithful enjoy the regional - mostly homemade - delicacies such as a baked Easter lamb, bread, Easter eggs, bacon, etc. from the consecration basket with the whole family. In addition, the children search for the last Easter eggs that the Easter Bunny had hidden well in the garden during the festive mass.

Easter Monday

Easter Monday is a public holiday in Austria. On this day, the Saviour appeared to two wandering disciples, who then immediately set off on their way back to Jerusalem to bring the good news to the other disciples.

Palmbuschen im Garten  © TVB Puch - Gerber

Other customs around Easter in Salzburgerland

In addition to the well-known traditions, such as dyeing Easter eggs, looking for Easter nests and the Easter bonfire, there are also very special titles for late risers. Because late risers don"t have it easy during Holy Week. Whoever wakes up or gets out of bed last gets the following titles and can be insulted with them all day long:

  • Palm Sunday– DER PALMESEL
  • Holy Saturday - TAFLAPPIN
  • Easter Sunday– FAULES EI
  • Easter Monday- OSTERLAMM

And who will always be the Palmesel at home, or are there even other names for the sleepyheads during Holy Week?

EVENT-TIP: after the 2-year forced break, the 12th 12. PalmKlang Festival will take place again this weekend in Oberalm at the Winklhof. For the first time, the concerts will also be offered via live stream.

PalmKlang 2022 © https://palmklang.at/

Easter greetings from Puch

Did you know all the traditions around Easter in the Tennengau and the story of the Pucher Palmesel? It"s interesting what goes on during Holy Week in Salzburg and what is celebrated - especially why we do it!

You can always find the latest news from Puch on Istagram under @Visitpuch! Follow us and link us to your pictures and videos from Puch, St. Jakob am Thurn, Urstein and Hinterwiestal. For those who are not on Instagram, you can also see the pictures on our website!

With my selfie with the Pucher Palmesel from last year, I wish you all a happy Easter and lots of fun practising the numerous traditions and customs during Holy Week. Have fun looking for Easter eggs and if you don"t have any plans for the Easter weekend, Oberalm will once again be hosting the traditional Easter fair from Holy Saturday to Easter Monday with a beer tent and numerous rides.

Pucher Palmesel © TVB Puch - Gerber

Hier geht´s nach Puch bei Salzburg

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