Festivals & Celebrations
Waldorf Education has at its foundation, recognition of the wholeness and connectedness of human beings with all life. One way in which this connectedness manifests is through the observance of the changes in the seasons. Our community festivals connect us with traditional cultures the world over, who have for centuries marked the turning points of the year, the equinoxes and solstices, with ritual and celebration. These events become opportunities for outward observances of nature’s seasonal changes, but they can become opportunities to learn about one’s own inner movement through the seasons of change as well.
“Celebrating festivals can bring us consciously to what we all experience instinctively in our daily lives, the changing cycles of the seasons and of life itself. Through various festivals and rituals we acknowledge and celebrate our connection to and our responsibility towards each other and the world.” -excerpted from Festivals, by Marilyn Pelrme
Throughout the year at Singing Cedars, we celebrate the festivals arising out of the Judeo-Christian traditions. We embrace all religions and encourage parents to bring other festivals and religious celebrations into the school as well. In our program, children experience the festivals through simple preparations involving food, song, circles, dance, story and puppetry related to the festival itself and changes in nature.
The school holds a number of festivals and ceremonies during the year. Please remember that during these events, parents are responsible for the safety and behavior of their own children.’ If your child is crying, please remove them until they have quieted down.
For many families, enrolling in a Waldorf early childhood program for the first time may also mean a first encounter with the celebration of the festival of Michaelmas. It stands as one of the four corner posts of the yearly cycle of festivals, just as autumn stands alongside winter, spring and summer; Michaelmas completes the cycle of Christmas, Easter, and St. John’s Tide. The meaning of the festival year can be understood on a deeper and more significant level if we are able to view the whole of the earth as a living organism, a concept which was much more alive for humanity in ages past.
Modern abstract thought seems to believe that the earth is mere minerals and rocks. With the picture of a living earth set before our eyes, it becomes possible to speak of an earthly cycle of breathing. As there is a drawing in of the breath for ourselves, so too is there an earthly drawing in as we experience autumn. The light, free movement and blossoming forth of summer now begins to contract in on itself as leaves wither, fruit is gathered, seeds are formed, and the encroaching darkness is experienced.
The image of St. Michael with his golden sword piercing the darkness, wells up in us giving us the courage to face the darkening earth. With autumn, the earth draws into herself, and we also begin to draw into ourselves. Winter is the season of inner contemplation. When we look within ourselves, who knows what dragons we will find? The struggle of St. George and the dragon is also a powerful image at Michaelmas time. We need courage not only to deal with the outer cold and darkness, but within ourselves, courage is also called for to shine light on those personal challenges we face as socially and morally maturing human beings. When the inner deeper meaning of festivals is contemplated, a nourishing and sustaining quality comes forth in which we can participate and enrich not only our own lives, but the lives of our families and our community as well.
In Singing Cedars, Michaelmas is celebrated as a festival of abundance with harvesting our garden, preparing mint tea for winter, apple polishing, making crowns, pressing apple cider or making apple juice etc.. The child is offered soul-nourishing images involving balance, healing and sorting the good from the bad. At this time we try to inspire a mood of gratitude, courage and uprightness. Parents are encouraged to bring their harvest from their gardens to share at our Harvest Potluck.
Hallowe’en (a contraction of All Hallow’s Evening, a holy or hallowed evening) is an occasion for renewal, festivity and children requesting treats. It has its origins in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which celebrated the first day of winter on November 1. It was believed that the spirits of the dead and other supernatural creatures—fairies, witches, and goblins—spirited about on that night and that the accessibility of the supernatural made it a propitious night for fortune telling. In Ireland, a sacred fire for the year was kindled on the altar of their place of worship from which all fires were subsequently lit.
The begging of treats by children probably evolved from the custom of begging peat for the bonfires “to scare the witches”. Later, harvest elements, pumpkins, apples and nuts were added from the Poman worship of Pomona, the goddess of the harvest, whose festival was around the same time. The Celtic and the Roman elements combined in the jack-o’-lantern, the fire in the pumpkin or turnip.
Halloween can be experienced as a natural transition from Michaelmas to Martinmas, leading on to Advent. The candle inside the pumpkin or turnip, both fruits of the earth, is like the very lost memory and of the glow of the summer sun with its ripening strength. The emphasis of the Halloween festival is to find the light in the darkness.
St. Martinmas Festival / Lantern Walk
From France comes the legend of St. Martin, who as a young man passed under an archway in the city of Amiens and discovered a poor beggar huddled there. The beggar was nearly naked, shivering with cold, and had received no alms to assist him. On seeing him, the young Martin took his own cape from his shoulders, tore the garment in half, and covered the poor man to warm him. The following night Martin had a dream in which he saw Christ wearing this same piece of his cape. The experience confirmed in him his devotion to all mankind regardless of their station in life.
St. Martin was known for his gentleness, his unassuming nature, and his ability to bring warmth and light to those who were previously in darkness. On the evening of Martinmas he is remembered in many French households with a festival of lanterns, carrying light throughout the darkened home, singing songs.
The Lantern Walk
The Lantern Walk is inspired by old customs honoring St. Martin, patron Saint of France, who was a representative of brotherliness. As the sun sets earlier and rises later, the world grows darker and the inner light of humankind wants to shine forth. Handmade lanterns, often decorated with stars, sun, and moon, are a symbol for the children of their own individual light; and our walk into the cold, dark evening, following a story recognizing “the light” of another, gives the children an experience of caring and sharing as we move toward the darkness of winter.
At Singing Cedars we celebrate by a story and songs and carrying our lanterns silently through the Magic Forest.
Gratitude, along with reverence and wonder, is one of the three most important attitudes we can help our children to cultivate. The best elements of the Thanksgiving festival with the help of its main motif, the giving of thanks, can elevate it to something that nourishes on many levels. As a harvest festival we can call I to mind all the forces of heaven and earth that have provided us with food, clothing and sustenance. We can remember and thank all who have supported us. Everyone at the Thanksgiving festival could take turns recalling aloud someone or something for which they are thankful. In Singing Cedars, we remember the Native American traditions, bring native American Indian songs, stories, craft activities, bake pumpkin pies, and give thanks to Mother earth and her children.
Winter / The Festival of Lights
Advent (from the Latin adventus: the arrival or the coming in of the spirit of joy and peace) is the period including the four Sundays just before Christmas, while the days are still growing shorter. In the tradition of the Christian churches one candle is lit each Sunday until the light of four candies heralds the birth of the Christ child. Yet Advent, and the feast day we now celebrate as Christmas, have a for wider traditional context. Throughout almost every culture of the northern hemisphere – the Roman celebration of Saturnalia, the Hebrew feast of the Dedication of the Temple, the Druid celebration of the winter solstice, the feast day of Mithraism – this midwinter holiday has had festival connotations of light and the sun, of the time when winter’s dark draws to a close and the renewed promise that spring’s light will soon begin.
During Advent, we can experience a special mood of Anticipation and quiet contemplation that brings us into a deeper relationship with the world around us. If we turn our thoughts to the profound facts of existence, we cannot help but perceive the strength and beauty in all that forms our world and in the four kingdoms of nature. All the kingdoms of nature circumscribe and contribute to our existence: mineral, plant, animal. We ourselves have mineral, plant, and animal aspects which hold the flame of our human spirit, the essence of the fourth kingdom of nature. We can move toward a deeper understanding of our place in the universe, of all that supports us, and all to which we can aspire. In this way, we can come to a more meaningful experience of Christmas. In the classroom, we try to bring the mood of Advent to the children in a very simple way. We begin the first week with the Advent Garden, and the experience of moving from the darkness into the light. The garden is a beautiful spiral pathway of pine boughs, interspersed with pinecones, berries, and crystals. While harp music sets a mood of quiet reverence, the children, one by one, take a candle and are guided to the candle in the center of the spiral. After lighting their candles, the children set them along the path, creating a shining spiral of light. Through our Advent wreath and stories, we try to bring the children to an appreciation of the four kingdoms of nature. The first week one candle is lit for the mineral kingdom, and the wreath is filled with glimmering crystals. The second week, two candles are lit and a flower or other representative of the plant world takes the place of the crystals. And so it goes until all the candles are lit. Many classes have an Advent calendar. The calendar has 24 little doors with a picture behind each one for each of the 24 days before Christmas. The children take turns opening the doors in quiet anticipation of the coming holiday.
Many parents observe Advent with a wreath and calendar in their own homes. In our time, the commercial demands of the season can easily consume our time and our thoughts. These quiet moments spent together each day lighting the candles and opening the calendar, perhaps with some singing, can bring the whole family closer together and help us enter the inner mood of the season.
Saint Nicholas Day
Saint Nicholas Day is a European tradition in which Bishop Nicholas and his silent servant Rupert visit children. In December, Saint Nicholas visits the classrooms and reads aloud from his golden book for the children, and afterwords he leaves gifts for the children. On the eve of December 5, in many traditions, children place their shoes outside the door hoping Saint Nicholas will leave a treat. (Your children would love a surprise.) He comes every year to visit the children of Singing Cedars.
A Saint Nicholas Story
Once upon a time there lived far away in the East a pious man, the Bishop Nicholas. One day he heard that far in the West was a big town. In this town all the people had to suffer hunger, the children also. Then the Bishop Nicholas called his servants who loved him and said to them “Bring me the fruits of your gardens and the fruits of your fields that we can still the hunger of the children in that town”. The servants brought baskets full of apples and nuts, and on top lay honey cakes, which the women had baked. And the men brought sacks of wheat. Bishop Nicholas had all these things taken onto a ship. It was a beautiful ship, quite white, and the sails of the ship were as blue as the sky and as blue as the mantle of the Bishop Nicholas. The wind blew into the sails and sped the ship along. And when the wind grew tired the servants took to the oars and rowed the ship westward. They had to sail for a long time: for seven days and seven nights.
When they arrived in front of the big town it was evening. The roads were empty, but in the houses there burned lights, Bishop Nicholas knocked at a window. The mother in the house thought a late wanderer had come and she asked her child to open the door. Nobody was outside. The child ran to the window. There was nobody outside the window either, but
instead, there stood a basket filled with apples and nuts, red and yellow, and a honey cake lay on top. By the basket stood a sack, which was bursting with golden wheat grains. All the people ate the gifts and once again became healthy and happy.
Today Saint Nicholas is in the heavens. Every year on his birthday he starts on his journey down to the earth. He asks for his white horse and journeys from star to star. There he meets Mother Mary, who gathers silver and golden threads for the gown on the Christ child. Mother Mary says to him: “Bear Saint Nicholas, please go again to the children and bring them your gifts; Tell them, “Christmas is nigh and soon the Christ child will come.”
“The earth is wide and great. There, where Saint Nicholas cannot go himself, he asks a good and pious person to go to the children and take them apples and nuts and tell the children of the coming of the Christ child.” -Margaret Meyerkort, Festivals, Family, and Food
Saint Lucia’s Day
According to the old Julian calendar, December 13th was the longest night of the year. The ancient people were very much aware of the diminishing daylight and feared the cold and hunger that accompanied the sun’s decline. Men yearned for a friendly spirit to intercede, restoring light to the earth. Over many centuries this spirit of light become personified in Santa Lucia, the Queen of Light.
Lucia was a wealthy girl who lived in the ancient city of Syracuse, Sicily, in the third century – a time when Christian worship was forbidden. Her parents had arranged her engagement to a noble young pagan, against her will. On the eve of her marriage, she gave away her entire dowry to the poor of her village as her refusal to marry. The young man, in his anger, reported to the local judge that Lucia was a Christian. Upon her refusal to offer sacrifices to the pagan gods, she was blinded and later sentenced to execution; she died a martyr’s death on December 13th, A.D. 304, under the edict of Emperor Diocletian. Later, she was canonized, receiving the name Santa Lucia. She is one of Italy’s favorite saints.
Santa Lucia’s Day is most commonly celebrated in Sweden. Her connection with Sweden is traced to medieval legend and folklore. Lucia was said to have brought food to the hungry people in one of Sweden’s provinces during a time of famine. She was dressed in white; a luminous halo in the form of a crown of light encircled her head. It is this image that has been preserved over the centuries.
In Sweden, Santa Lucia’s Day Feast is the official opening of the Christmas festivities. Early on the morning of December 13th, before daylight, families all over Sweden are awakened by a “Lucia”, usually the eldest daughter of the family, singing the ancient Sicilian song “Santa Lucia”. Dressed in white, and wearing a whortleberry (or evergreen) crown with seven lighted candles, she presents a tray of coffee, saffron buns, and Christmas cookies to each member of the family while they are still in bed. The younger children in the family join her. They also wear white and a tall silver pointed hot with a star on top and carry a lighted candle. In some places Lucia has baker boys as her escorts who carry special buns made in the shape of an X. These “Lucia Cats” have raisin eyes and the baked dough curls up at the ends. After everyone in the family is up and dressed, a special breakfast is served in a room illuminated by candlelight. Special portions are served to the animals of the household on this day. Traditional Swedish hospitality is shown to everyone who enters the home during this season; none may leave until he has partaken of some refreshments, so he may take the spirit of Christmas home with him.
The Lucia Queen, bearing her gifts of love and light, symbolizes hope and charity to the Swedish people. At the time of the winter solstice, man universally seeks light; Santa Lucia is another form in which this process is celebrated. In Singing Cedars, Santa Lucia visits, singing and wearing a crown of light and delivering a treat to the children.
Christmas Each changing season unfolds an idea that has meaning for human life. In writing about the festivals we endeavor to bring the mood and purpose of the season into an imaginative picture so that we all might enter into this yearly rhythm and re-connect with our mother earth. Yet, in the words of Francis Evelyn Capel in Festivals in North and South, “Festivals are not celebrated in order to reflect the soul-life of the earth in its changing seasons, but to add what comes from the human spirit and the human heart. ” It is up to us to bring something to the festival – not just to expect the festival to bring something to us.
The images given in festivals are always treasure houses of truth. The more we quietly contemplate them and hold them before our unprejudiced imagination, the more they reveal their meanings to us.
In the Christmas festival the great image is of a birth, surrounded by love: the Christ child in the stable, with mother and father, shepherds and animals. In the dark of winter the son, “the light of the world”, has been born, just after the winter solstice when the light is now returning. It is the birth of the sun in the deepest darkness of the year.
As the sun awakens life upon the earth, so the sun-spirit within us awakens us to our spiritual purpose and to our precious gift of individual freedom. Wintertime, when nature has withdrawn and thrown us on our own resources, is the time for quiet reflection and meditative thinking.
This celebration of a birthday at Christmas should cause us to think about our own birthdays and remember the questions we once so earnestly asked: “Why am I here? What is the meaning of my life?” “What is my purpose on earth?” As we human beings come into birth with our individual destinies, we shape the evolution of the earth, and it is becoming even more important that we consciously examine our lives and know what it is that we are bringing. We must kindle our inner light with the flame of the sun and shed it upon our purposes, aligning them with the purposes of the earth.
Christmas is also a festival of love, as well as light – of great love which sacrificed its heavenly life to be born into human suffering and limitation that true humanity might develop. For us such great love is an image to contemplate. How much do we truly love those around us – in such a way as to leave them in freedom? At this time of year we should look to see how much warmth and selflessness there is in our human relationships. When we love one another – not in a sentimental way, but in a way, which respects and protects the others individuality, then we allow the sun to shine through the darkness of our mistrust and selfishness. Rudolf Steiner described that this can be attained by really listening to and taking an interest in an other’s thoughts, regardless of whether they agree or disagree with our own opinions. We may turn then in two directions with the flame of the sun – inward with light to rediscover and renew our spiritual purposes, and outward into community with the warmth of love for one another and all the kingdoms of earth. Then may we really bring something from our spirits and our hearts as a true Christmas gift.
Three Kings Day
Three Kings Day falls on January 6 , the twelfth day of Christmas, and the first day of Epiphany, which lasts four weeks in the Christian Church.
Around this time it is good to take the tree down and pack up the ornaments thus finishing the Christmas festivities. Three Kings Day is the last glimmer of mystery and activity. There is a very nice Three Kings cake recipe in the book: Festivals, Families and Food. In the cake, you can hide three beans, one bean for each of the Kings that were going to visit the creche in Bethlehem. When a child gets a bean in his cake, then he gets to wear one of the gold paper crowns. Each crown can be decorated with glass stones or ribbons to denote the different colored robes of the Kings. The telling of a story or a puppet play makes for a beautiful end to the festival. The story of Baboushka would be a good choice.
In some families, the Three Kings leave a small gift for each child as a reminder of the gifts they and all of us bring to the stable. At Singing Cedars we mark the end of Christmas by burning our Christmas tree on the 6th, accompany it with a story.
Candlemas is on February 2, forty days after Christmas. It is the day that Mary presented Jesus at the temple. A lovely tradition that can be started is to make and bless candles. After Christmas, there are usually many little pieces leftover from the advent wreath, and tree candles. All these candles can be melted in a small can, which sits in a warm pot of water on the stove. Small candles can be dipped for birthdays, or evening bedtime candles. Then at night, a verse could be read, and a blessing said for providing light and guidance for the home.
February 2 is also Groundhog Day when people watch to see if the groundhog will see his shadow. If it is sunny and he does see his shadow, more winter weather lies ahead, for forty days. If he doesn’t, then we will have an early spring. It is a day when we start to look toward Spring, and new buds. Snowdrops are one of the early flowering bulbs, which flower near this time. The days are now growing longer and the light has come.
Long before St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, a festival was held in ancient Rome during February in honor of the great god Pan. The festival was called Lupercalia, and one of its customs was for the names of young men and women to be shaken in a box and then drawn in lottery fashion to choose token sweethearts. It happened that in the third Century the Bishop Valentine of Rome was martyred on the eve of the festival of Lupercalia. A man noted for his goodness and chastity, it was fitting that the day eventually acquired his name. The element of chance and theme of love remain, as a Valentine is still known as an anonymous declaration of affection usually sent in card form. Flowers, red heart shapes, lace, and birds are the images of the festival, the latter because of an old belief that birds also choose their mates on this day for spring nesting.
For children today, of course, it is the surprise element of a pretty card rather than romantic notions that holds enjoyment of the day. This favorite day of the heart is celebrated in the classrooms with small “parties” and the exchanging of Valentine cards. In our classrooms, children will draw a name and make only one special valentine for a friend.
Easter day, the beginning of the Easter season, is determined by celestial events. It is actually read from the heavens. For Easter to be celebrated, the spring equinox, the day when the length of the day and night are equal, must have passed. Thereafter, we must wait for the full moon. The first Sunday after this first full moon of spring is Easter Sunday. The Easter season therefore presents a good opportunity to direct the attention of older children to the heavens. They can thus begin to realize how great cosmic laws affect our earthly lives.
The festival of Easter derives its name from pre-Christian goddess symbols of rebirth, fertility, and Spring; the Saxon Easter and Old German Eostre. The ancient symbols of hare and egg, both known as signs of the return of life after Winter’s sleep, today carry the Christian association of the Resurrection of Christ. When we exchange Easter eggs as gifts we are reenacting an ancient wisdom – that which appears to be still and dead in fact contains new life.
For the adult, the mysteries of death and resurrection are central to a living appreciation of Easter. As many ponder the events in the life of Christ leading up to His Resurrection we can grow in understanding. But such considerations are not appropriate for the young child who still lacks an inner experience of death. To the child the world is permeated with life. Each toy, and every natural or man-made object is alive, ready to be greeted in the morning, confided in throughout the day, and finally bid goodnight at bedtime. Without a sense of separation and death the idea of resurrection is a baffling abstraction. As adults we are challenged to find images which can work into the child’s unconscious experience, thus building in dreamlike ways, strength for future understanding.
Since children do experience Nature’s path through the seasons – particularly in the joy of springtime – we can find clues here to an experience of renewal. The tiny buds bursting into flower, the baby birds and animals, the greening gross, all reveal to the child the cycles of life, the breathing in and out of the earth.
Easter is celebrated as a time of healing, transformation, and rebirth. Easter grass and seeds are planted, and the mystery of death as a caterpillar and rebirth as a butterfly is presented in story and song. Easter eggs remind the children that just as the golden yolk shines in the center of the egg, so God’s love shines from the center of the earth. Ideally, this is a time to make hot-cross buns at home, and to find some time to paint eggs if children have been blowing them and saving them for a week or two beforehand.
If the wreath of flowers goes back to Spring goddess symbols, the May Pole itself represents, most probably, the tree of life and fertility. In modern context both are just good, festive fun, and a reminder that warmer days are ahead. Children get the chance at school today to enjoy the tradition of a May Pole with flowers on the top and pretty ribbons dangling from it and the very simple skipping dances which can be done around it, to the accompaniment either of music or singing. Children and adults have traditionally worn flowers when dancing around the May Pole. A single blossom in the buttonhole or hair, or an actual “May Crown” or wreath of flowers for the head symbolizes the full arrival of spring and new growth.
At Singing Cedars this is one of our favorite festivals celebrated by flower crown making, horseback riding, fairy-house building, May Pole dancing and sharing a meal together. All family and friends are welcome.
Whitsun, the fiftieth day after Easter, is the day when the Holy Spirit descended to the group of disciples. The Holy Spirit brought the message that Christ had not left them, but that he was united with them. This festival is truly one of community in the deepest sense. There are various ways to celebrate the festival, all creating a mood of holiness and purity is through the lovely white symbols. The image of the Holy Spirit is embodied in a white dove. The picture of Christ and the disciples can be represented by the daisy as a composite flower, with its center representing Christ and the smaller surrounding petals representing the disciples. Another picture of this is a large central candle surrounded by twelve smaller candles, which may be lit by those present. Extra candles may be lit in honor of friends and relatives. The lighting of candles for people may expand over the years to saying prayers as the children grow older.
St. John’s Day
We celebrate the festival of Saint John, June 24, at the Summer Solstice here in the Northern Hemisphere. This is a time when all the forces of the earth have grown outward and have spread themselves even beyond the furthest blooming and greening of the plants. The festival acts as a messenger, a harbinger, of the Winter Solstice. Just as John the Baptist was a herald for Christ Jesus, so the Summer Solstice bids us recognize that soon the forces of earth will be gathered into the earth. The Midsummer Day Festival announces the earth changes and allows us to see that even our spirits, though they soar in summer, will soon be brought in. We may use the Solstice time to look with new eyes upon the flowering nature and upon the spiritual forces that create it. We must prepare ourselves as vessels to properly hold the spirit-light that we will contain at the Winter Solstice.
In what practical way can a family celebrate this festival of fire at the center point on the “light” half of the wheel of the year? What can we do to prepare ourselves for the inner work, which we will be doing at Winter Solstice?
St. John’s Day is a fire day! Traditionally a large bonfire is built around which the community dances and sings. Human beings add their voice to the harmonies arising from the fragrance and colors, the pollen and potencies, of the plant kingdom as well as the melodious songs of the birds, the sonorous humming of the bees, and the comfortable lowing of pastured cows. Rising to meet the fire of the starry heavens is the St. John’s fire, overreaching its physical substance in leaping sparks and flaming plumes.
All across summertime on earth the heavenly harmony of the spheres is being reflected in emergent life. Human beings, themselves expanding out into the fruiting world, leave behind personal cares. They leap over the flames, as if attempting to rise with natural exhilaration into the starry heights.
The fire of conscience is re-ignited at this time, lest humanity should lose itself in the world,. “Receive the light!” The light of inner wisdom. Read in all that is flourishing around you the message of the Divine. Take on moral responsibility and become a son or daughter of the Divine.