On rare occasion, bugs and even snakes fall from bunches of palms as workers at a Southwest Side church supply company chop the skinny green leaves that will arrive at thousands of churches around Chicago for Palm Sunday services.
The critters stow away in the palms, which are stuffed in burlaps bags before being trucked from Florida to Watra Church Goods, 4201 S. Archer.
“Most church supply stores in the area buy their palms already cut and prepared, but for us it’s a labor of love,” said Janine Kucera, whose father started the business in 1935.
The palm is cheap, with one area wholesaler selling 600 for just under $100. And the price drops with bulk orders.
“There’s hardly any profit margin selling palms when compared to other things like candles,” said Phil Taschetta, who runs Church Supply Warehouse in Wheaton. “It’s more of a service to our customers.”
But the religious symbolism of the palm is beyond value.
Jesus’ followers laid palms in his path and waved them as he entered Jerusalem in the week leading up to his death and resurrection.
“They were recognizing him as a king and a leader amongst the people,” said the Rev. Michael Pfleger, pastor of St. Sabina Church.
Many of the palms sent to Chicago are then sent around the globe.
Taschetta, who receieves palms from Texas, has sent palms to troops in Afghanistan and churches in Alaska.
It’s not an easy thing to keep fresh.
“Imagine it as trying to ship a head of lettuce,” said Taschetta, who laughed while recalling batches he has sent to Hawaii.
“In Hawaii, you’d think they have palms growing everywhere,” he said.
The palms are distributed as parishioners enter church on Palm Sunday and then they’re blessed by the priest, said Todd Williamson, director for the office of worship for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“Later, people take them home and they display them in their homes or their cars,” Williamson said. “For some, there’s a tradition of weaving them into elaborate crosses, quite beautifully.”
One tricky part of the palm business is ordering just the right amount.
“There’s nothing you can do with a palm after Palm Sunday,” Kucera said. “You have to order as closely as possible.”