How to make 'butarce'

by Franciska and Irene Sajn

Slovenia is a predominantly Catholic country with various customs and traditions.  One marvelous tradition celebrated (the Sunday before Easter) Palm Sunday is the making of the colourful palm known as 'butarca'.  Basically it involves tying together greenery and coloured ribbons into a hand held bouquet.  These bunches of greenery differ regionally in appearance (size, shape, colour).  But all are taken to church for blessing on Palm Sunday and are then kept within the home for good luck/ protection till the following year.

Traditionally as palm branches were not available within Slovenia the locals would take olive branches instead for blessings. In my home village of Knežak as a family we would all attend the Palm Sunday service taking olive branches for blessings.  The boys in the village would race around and it would become a competition on who had the biggest branch and they would poke/ hit each other (for fun) with them.  The church 'mežnar' (man that was in charge of the church) was forever looking out for the boys during the church service, keeping them still.  It was amazing they still had branches to take home.  The blessed palms were then kept all year, with the old palm branches burned and used to bless our home.

Attending the Slovenian Church: The Mission of Ss Cyril and Methodius, in A’Beckett Street, Kew, I joined the mother group along with many others under the guidance of the late father Bazilij Valentine OFM and the first group of Slovenian sisters.  All had a great enthusiasm in developing, sharing and keeping alive our Slovenian traditions.  It was here in Melbourne I learnt to make the colourful 'butarce' that I take to church each year.

The first group of sisters arrived in Melbourne on Palm Sunday acquiring a home a few streets away from the church called Slomšek House.  Mrs Draga Gelt spoke to Sister Silvestra and brought up the idea of teaching us 'how to make a butarca'.   Mrs Lucija Srnec invited the church's mother group along with Sister Silvestra back to her house and along with Mrs Draga Gelt we were shown this tradition from their region in Slovenia.  We were told to bring an open mind and it was here we were first given instructions.   We were all very excited.  From there the following year we were invited back to Slomšek House.  The sisters provided the greenery and ribbons and we had a very interesting and enjoyable afternoon.  Some of our attempts not so successful, but Sister Silvestra was very encouraging and had something nice to say about all the butarce made that afternoon.  These were taken to the church on Palm Sunday and for a small donation the money raised always went towards a good cause.

Later years as our group grew we started to make butarce on the church grounds in the room used as a class room, the Saturday before Palm Sunday.  Everyone was welcomed, young/old and everyone was found a task even it it involved cutting up branches or ribbons which was very helpful.

Each year as I attend mass I am stopped by neighbours admiring and asking about the butarca I carry.  I am always happy to promote Slovenia and share our customs.  These days the butarca that I have kept from the previous year I sprinkle the greenery onto my garden bed (as it has been blessed).

In 2014 I was proud and honoured that we could share our passion of the Slovenian tradition of the butarca with our local parish church Sacred Heart, Kew.  Archpriest Michael Kalka invited the Archbishop of Melbourne to join in the mass service for that year’s Palm Sunday celebrations and together they both carried one.  

This year under Very Rev Ciril Bozic OFM OAM EV we will be making butarce at The Mission of Ss Cyril and Methodius, in A’Beckett Street, Kew on the 19 March 2016 and everyone is welcomed to attend (from beginners to the experienced).  As our group is now not as large as it once was we hope that the younger generation will keep this tradition alive.  Even today for a small donation the money rasied on Palm Sunday still goes towards a good cause.  For those that are unable to attend but would still like to learn how to make a butarca, please have a look at the pdf file belowWonderful to have the Slovenian tradition preserved with our family/ friends.

The butarca does not only represent preserving our rich Slovenian cultural tradition but also  commemorating the memory of the coming of Christ into Jerusalem.