Seasonal festivals are a special part of the Waldorf curriculum. These festivals serve to mark the rhythms of the year and the cycle of the seasons. They are chosen for their special qualities, which reflect the time of year in which they take place. Many of these festivals are descendants of ancient traditions, some of which are no longer commonly celebrated in our culture, but which have deep historical roots. Traditional festivals were collective “birthdays”, moments of heightened experience and renewal, times for people to reconnect with their origins and the greater meanings of their lives.
Some of our festivals are small celebrations just for the children, taking place as part of the school day. Other, larger festivals are times for the children and their families to come together. Still others, in particular the Halloween Journey and the May Faire, invite the community at large to come together in shared celebration. If you haven’t been to one of these festivals check the calendar and come join in the fun.
Here are descriptions of just a handful of our festivals. There are many other festivals that are celebrated. These few are presented to give a sense of them as they relate to the education as a whole.
Michaelmas, the feast of St. Michael, is the first festival of the school year and takes place at the end of September. Harvest time, the autumn equinox, is traditionally a time of mixed feelings, matching the changing of the seasons. In earlier times it was an occasion for gratitude for the harvest’s bounty but also a time of concern about the more challenging days ahead. As the days grew shorter and Summer ceded to Fall it was a time to look inward and find one’s own strength and courage, as opposed to the outward push of spring. The earth draws its energy inwards, and so do we.There are many legends of St. Michael (who has many names in other cultures), but his theme is as the conqueror of the powers of darkness. As part of the celebration the second grade performs the play “St. George and the Dragon”, a play with a similar theme to the St. Michael story. In it St. George saves the people by taming the terrible dragon that has been tormenting them. In addition to the play the day is marked by games that challenge the children’s skills, strength, teamwork and ingenuity. It is a wonderful, outdoor celebration.
The Halloween Journey is an alternative way to celebrate this traditional holiday with young children. The main campus of the school is transformed into a magical land filled with fairy tale vignettes, rather than ghosts and gore. Visitors are welcomed with a bonfire, music and refreshments, and then led in small groups by their “Angel Guides” through this fantasyland. At each stop on the journey there is a magical performance to be enjoyed and a small treat to add to each child’s goodie bag. This gathering is open to the public and is truly not to be missed. In the days following this festival is an internal celebration of the traditional El Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, during which the children are given a chance to remember, honor and celebrate their loved ones who have died.
The Advent Spiral takes place on the first day of Advent, the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas. The days are short, the nights are long and this festival helps remind us of our ability to bring our own light into darker times. A spiral of greenery is laid out on the floor of a quiet, darkened room and filled with items representing three kingdoms: plant, mineral, and animal (man being the fourth). At the center a lit candle is placed, and each child is given a turn to make his or her way through the spiral to the center, carrying an unlit candle they have made in preparation for this day. When the center candle is reached the children light their own candle off of the central candle and then place it somewhere along the spiral as they make their way back out. As the children place their candle along the path the light in the room slowly grows. It is a quiet and moving experience, both to participate in and to watch.
May Faire is celebrated in early May of each year. In ancient tradition it honored the goddess of Spring, the Roman Flora or Greek Persephone. It celebrates the rebirth and renewal of springtime and the approach of summer, the coming of warmth and light into the world, and the birth of new plant and animal life all around us. This festival is open to all and is filled with lightness and joy. There is music and singing, Maypole dancing, crafts to be made and good things to eat.