Seeking the Light and the Warmth with Advent

| November 28, 2009 | 5 Comments

Editor’s Note: Happy Saturday morning! We have Rebecca Watkin on site discussing the Waldorf tradition of Advent - a time of celebrating light. Here she is:

Deep Mid-winter drawing near –
May Light arise in our Garden here
.

Advent has always been my favorite celebration. As a child I didn’t know it was Advent I loved, I only knew that December was a time of happiness, warmth and family. Traditionally, Advent begins four Sundays before Christmas. This year the fun begins November 29.

Most Waldorf schools in Canada celebrate Advent, St. Nicolas Day, Christmas and Hanukkah. In a season of darkness all of these celebrations seek the light and the warmth.

Every Waldorf class celebrates Advent in its own unique way. Each teacher is given the independence to find what is true for them. Often there is a coming together of the whole school each week, or perhaps one Sunday the whole community gathers for a chance to celebrate together.

For me Advent is about the light. As the light outside dwindles, it is a chance to look inward and seek the light there. Christmas is the turning point for me. It follows the solstice and marks the time when the sun will return –  and when my perspective will turn out once again. Of course, I will have been nourished by my experience during Advent. This is my hope for the children in my class and in my home.

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Beginning on November 29, we will have a wreath made from cedar boughs decorated with holly and rosemary (one at school and one at home). It will have four red candles evenly placed within the cedar and one white candle in the center. The wreath will have a special place in the classroom and at home it will be placed on my sideboard.

Each day at school we begin our day in darkness with a song about Advent, including a verse for stones, one for plants, one for animals and one for humans. We walk toward our wreath during the last verse and gather around it. I light the center candle and we say a verse about the light which begins: The gift of light we shall thankfully take/But it shall not be alone for our sake,/The more we give light, the one to the other/It grows and gives light, and shines even farther.

We pass the white candle around the circle while we say the verse until it comes back to me. Next we say a verse about the stones while I light the first red candle. Then we sing one more song about Advent before the candle is snuffed out and the lights are turned back on.

On the second week of Advent we light two candles and say a verse about the plants, as well as the one for the stones. Each week we add a candle and an element.

On one Sunday during Advent, Waldorf communities usually have an Advent spiral. This is a life sized version of the Advent wreath. The room will be set up with cedar boughs in a giant spiral with a display of crystals and moss at the centre. All along the path of the spiral gold stars will be placed. A single candle shines at the centre of the spiral.

The children and families assemble and quietly sit around the spiral. A verse is spoken and then a lyre (or guitar) is played while the children are invited one by one to walk the spiral. The child is given an apple with a candle in its center which they take with them around the spiral to the center. The child lights his candle with the center candle, and then places the apple on the first golden star and returns to their seat. The next child will put their candle on the next star, and so on until the room is lit up by all the flames. The whole community then sings an Advent song as the night closes.

Gertrud Nelson, in Waldorf Education: A Family Guide, writes about Northern Pre-Christian people seeking life and hope at this time of year when there is little light. For these people the solution was to stop all ordinary activity and stay indoors. They brought in their carts and decorated the wheels with boughs. They hung a wheel on the wall as a sign to stop all ordinary activity. These people engaged their feelings of darkness as a way to coax the sun-god back to action.

Nelson asks us to imagine what it would be like to understand this ancient tradition and remove one tire from our car and use this for our Advent wreath. Our routines would stop and we would be forced to just be. What a thought.

We can accomplish this inward turning by freely taking up the task of a wreath. Children are mesmerized by the light of the candles and the reverence of the ceremony.

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Of course that is not all that children love about Advent. I know you’ve seen them - the calendars with the doors hiding chocolate goodness. Yes, in my classroom I have an Advent calendar that we turn to after our wreath lighting. The one we use has pockets for each day. In the pockets I hide things like nuts, seeds, stones and gems, shiny paper and bits of dyed wool. The children take turns uncovering the day’s mystery from the pockets. They love this detail of our Advent traditions - it is always the first thing they talk about when they arrive at school.

At home we make our own calendar. I invite you to try this fun and easy Advent activity.

Materials:

-Two pieces of paper the same size (the thicker and bigger the paper the better),
-Pencils (or paint) for drawing,
-Glue for attaching the paper together, and
-Scissors or a utility knife

Directions:

1. Use one piece of paper for the top and draw a Christmas design on the whole page. At home we painted a picture and let it dry, while at school the children drew pictures. One child drew a snowman with its arms around her whole family - I wish I had thought of that.

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2. Work out your map for 24 doors on the back of this picture. Once you are sure you have your doors where you want them they can be numbered and drawn in. Make sure the doors open backwards (you are working on the back). You can do a design like a spiral or rows, or have the doors randomly numbered around the page.

3. Cut the doors. I used a utility knife at home and at school the children used scissors. When all 24 doors are cut you are ready to design your surprises.

4. Draw pictures within each door that will become your mysteries for each day. My calendars havehad drawings of a pine cone, a snowflake, a snowman, a squirrel with a nut, a robin, a star and many other wintery objects.

5. Place your top paper onto your back paper.

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6. Open each door and make tiny pencil marks along each edge of the doors. This will be your frame for picture sizes and locations. You can erase these lines later if you need to.

7. Once your drawings are finished, turn to the front page again and number the outsides of your doors. You may have planned a special mystery picture to be opened on Christmas day, so be sure to map out where the number 24 should go.

8. Glue the pages together. You will want to glue around the entire outer edge, but you may also want to glue around all the doors since this aids in the ease of opening the doors later on.

9. Close your doors and hang on the wall.

There, now you are ready for Advent.

I wish you all the light you need.

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Category: ARTS & LITERACY, Kid-Led Learning

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From time to time friends and neighbours around the community drop by to share ideas, trade stories and offer up their wisdom – joining us as guest columnists here at Our Big Earth. 

Comments (5)

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  1. Alix says:

    Ah the light! I too love this time of year – can hardly wait for the days to start getting longer again!

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