April 10, 2006
Palm braiding: keeping a tradition alive
By Liz Hellmann
A little 8-year-old girl diligently sat by her mother’s side as she learned a Catholic tradition.
Years later, Rosie Hertel of Winsted is taking her turn as the teacher, as she hosts a palm braiding class, organized by Cathy Millerbernd of Winsted each year at Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Winsted Palm Sunday.
Not only is Hertel taking an active role in passing down what is becoming a lost art, she is passing it on in the same way her mother and hundreds before her did.
“I don’t have directions, it’s all up in my head,” Hertel said.
The latest class at Holy Trinity took place April 9 from 2 to 3 p.m. These classes can teach almost anyone how to braid palms.
This time, it is not a little girl’s curiosity that sparked the teaching sessions, but the desire of two women to revive a dying art.
“It’s an oral tradition. So many senior citizens know how to do it,” Millerbernd said.
Millerbernd organized the first palm braiding class at Holy Trinity three years ago as a way to promote the season and pass this tradition on to the younger generation.
Palm braiding also helps parishioners continue a church tradition.
In the Catholic church, it is traditional to take home palm branches that have been blessed during the Palm Sunday service, the week before Easter.
This is in celebration of Jesus Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, signaling the start of Holy Week for the church.
Faithful parishioners display the palms in their homes throughout the year.
On Ash Wednesday the following year, the palms are brought back to the church and burned, in observance of another Lenten season.
Palm braiding offers a creative way to keep those palms all year long.
“A lot of people like palm braiding because they can display them, instead of having a big hanging palm on the wall,” Hertel said.
People can braid the palms into several different shapes, including crosses, roses, pyramids, and palm flowers.
The crosses can be hung on the wall, and pyramids and palm flowers easily fit in the arms of a statue, such as a saint.
“Most people want to learn how to make the cross. Usually, there are two or three people that pick it up really fast, then they can help people as I move on to the pyramid,” Hertel said.
The pyramid looks similar to a flower, with a stem connecting a weave on top that wraps around to make layers, and a pyramid shape.
“It’s just like weaving a basket,” Hertel said.
Although Hertel admits the pyramid shape can be hard to start, once it gets going, it is easy to keep going.
But don’t expect to pick it all up from one class. Hertel, who has been palm braiding since she was eight, still learns something new every year.
She even decided to tweak the tradition, just slightly.
“I had been doing this for years, but when I agreed to teach the class, I thought I better jazz it up a little bit,” Hertel said.
She decided to add small flowers to the finished palms, to give them some color.
The ladies who come to the class can pick out what flowers they want to adorn their creations. Then, helpers like Millerbernd can glue the silk flowers onto the braided palms, while the ladies go back to make another one.
It is important that the palms be braided soon after they are used in the church service, otherwise they will dry out and become too brittle to weave.
But once they are braided together, they stay intact throughout the year.
The exciting part for Hertel is passing on the tradition to so many different people.
“It’s fun teaching the class because it ranges from little ones to grandparents,” Hertel said.