It was a common custom in many lands of the ancient Middle East to cover in some way the path of someone thought worthy of the highest honor. In 2 Kings 9:13 Jehu, son of Jehoshaphat, was treated to this honor. Each of the four Gospels report that the people of Jerusalem gave Jesus the honor of walking on a covered path. However, in the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) we hear that the people lay their garments and cut rushes to place on the street. Only the Gospel of John specifically mentions palms.
So what is the significance of the palm? The palm branch was a symbol of triumph and of victory in Jewish tradition, and is treated as such in other parts of the Bible (e.g. Leviticus 23:40 and Revelation 7:9). Based on this significance, the scene of the crowd greeting Jesus by waving palms and carpeting his path has given the Christian celebration its name. It shows the freedom desired by the Jews, and their desperation to have political freedom. In fact, they were welcoming their “Messiah,” whom they expected to be a great king who would free them from the oppression of foreign rulers. The entry of Jesus into Jerusalem included chants from Psalm 118 and 148:1. The Hebrew hoshiiah na’ (I beseech you, save now) was changed in Greek to hosanna, which became a famous Christian term, and had a huge Messianic significance.
The palm is a symbol of victory for us as Christians. Since we recognize that Jesus is the Messiah (a word which we normally use in the Greek translation – “Christ”), we recognize that He has already achieved a victory for us. But the victory is not over earthly rulers. It’s much bigger. It’s victory over Satan. It’s a victory over sin and death. It’s a victory that gives us Eternal Life.