Editor’s Note: It’s an education imagination Saturday. If you missed it this morning, we reviewed two fantastically fun Halloween books with the Rainy Day Book Club. Check them out HERE.
This afternoon we have Rebecca Watkin discussing the Waldorf tradition of seasonal festivals – their significance, beauty and ability to make the imagination of childhood soar. She will be introducing us to the stories, traditions and system of Waldorf-Inspired learning on a monthly basis. Welcome Rebecca! Here she is:
I have always loved this time of year. The wind seems to muffle our yelps and cheers and make us run faster. The food at our table changes, the volume of our voices lower. Lamps make us creep indoors; the fire makes us sleepy sooner. Autumn is a time of reflection. When the fullness of Summer’s light is gone we turn inward to seek the light. In this time of reflection I ask myself what do the children need?
A very important part of any Waldorf community is its festivals. The festivals are the gifts left to us from the ancient wisdom of our foremothers. Long ago there was a spiritual knowledge of human and nature. Today it is easy to get caught in the tradition, habit or sentiment of festivals. If celebrated mindfully festivals can be a source of healing and balance as well as a way to strengthen community.
This time of year always makes me appreciate the festivals not just because most of them are about food but, because of the sense of renewal.
As the leaves flutter down and the seeds fall beside, there lies possibility. Young children have an innate sense of this wisdom. At this time of year we have the opportunity to recognize in ourselves this possibility. When we come together to celebrate festivals with joy and freedom there is a rebirth. It is always easier for me to be open and authentic at a festival when I am with children.
Recently I celebrated Michaelmas as a school festival. Most Waldorf schools celebrate this festival on September 29th to mark the Autumn equinox. The celebration marks the changing relationship between light and darkness in the world around us. The festival is named for St. Michael conqueror of the powers of darkness.
Although the story has its name from Christianity it is not celebrated as a religious festival. The story of Michael is a powerful story for children and is often redone in a dramatic version by the children including grades one through four. The image that I hold during the celebration is of Michael standing before the dragon of his own free will as solid as a rock. The dragon is subdued in the story but we are challenged by the image to develop our own strength, courage and free will.
As part of this festival the children from pre-school to grade 8 learn verses about courage and strength, songs about bringing light into the darkness, and games to test ones level of each.
It is a festival of joy and energy.
My pre-schooler gets to wear a golden crown and has made her own wooden sword. At the end of the festival there is a feast prepared by the parents of warm soup and bread. Someone always brings dessert and someone always brings a guitar.
October holds possibly my favorite festival. The Harvest celebration, also known as Thanksgiving, is a time of gratitude and completion. Celebrating the gifts of the earth and this land of freedom is very easy to do with children since they are already bundles of love.
Each Waldorf school that I have been a part of at this time of year celebrates in their own unique way. At one school there was a feast planned. Each of the eight grades had a role to play in the preparation of the feast. The mood of love, thanks and awe was nurtured a week in advance as preparations began. In the end, a hall was beautifully decorated, tables were magnificently adorned, guests were welcomed, flutes were played and a blessing was sung while 250 people held hands and bread was broken in unison.
At my own Waldorf home we too prepared in advance. We planned a menu, collected leaves in the rain and pumpkins at the soggy farm. We made mini scarecrows with sweet hay and contemplated what we were thankful for. Most of us were thankful for family and health. The children were thankful for school and Grandma. I always appreciate EVERYTHING a little more after Thanksgiving when everyone I love has said thank you in some way.
The next festival on my calendar is All Hallows’ Eve. There are many ancient beginnings to this festival, most of which do not resemble what we celebrate as Halloween today. Halloween may have its beginnings in France when the Druids had two principal feast days: the spring feast on May 1st and the autumn feast on Nov 1st. The night before the Autumn feast was the most feared night of all. On this night the spirits of those who had died in the past year were allowed to roam free in an attempt to placate the Lord of Death.
Many traditions practiced on Halloween may come from this ancient celebration like bonfires, roasted nuts and apples, masked people begging for food, the presence of witches and black cats and Jack-O-Lanterns.
Me? Well, at school we will sing spooky songs. We will make felted pictures of pumpkins, goblins and ghosts. We will go on a walk through the woods and we will have a fire. At home, we have something wonderful planned. We will meet our friends in the woods. The children will collect things from nature like pine cones, leaves and stones after hearing the story of The Old Woman of the Woods.
This wise woman, it is said, makes a broth for the animals so that they might be fed for the Winter. This special broth is given to the animals at this time of year before they begin their winter sleep.
The Old Woman of the Woods collects things from nature to make the broth. The children will walk through the woods lit by Jack-O-Lanterns and candles to where the Old Woman sits. She will welcome them and accept their gifts. In return, a show of gratitude will be given to the children in the form of treats. This is a moving celebration for the adults and a wonderfully enriching event for the children.
Whatever the season there are festivals to mark the passage of time in nature. When we can connect ourselves in freedom to what is going on around us and join with others we can enrich and heal our communities.
I wish you all a happy Harvest time and a Happy Halloween.