Throughout the world, in all civilizations, there are celebrations reflecting nature’s rhythms, important transitions and significant moments in the life of the culture. We celebrate these to sustain and renew ourselves. For people today, whose lives can be so insulated as to be unaware of the seasons—of reaping and sowing, of dark and light, of birth and death—festivals can help provide a real touchstone with the cycles of the earth and the soul nurturing they provide. In Waldorf schools, the elements of festival—light, food, song and story—permeate the weekly school rhythm; but the cadence of the year receives its form through festivals. Annual festivals of nature and humanity are celebrated in ways that foster wonder, reverence, and gratitude and which nourish the future capacity to respond—to be responsible for and among the human community.
In the autumn, at harvest season, we celebrate Michaelmas (pronounced Mick-el-mas). Michaelmas is September 29th and celebrates the forces of the Archangel Michael (usually pronounced Myk-i-el), the time-spirit of this epoch. As the seasons transition from the outer warmth of summer to the coolness of fall, we turn inwards, towards ourselves and towards our community for inner warmth. The Michaelic forces imbue us with the confidence and courage to look to the spiritual world for strength, and renew the impulse to live our lives on the earth to the best of our abilities and become a true community of human beings. In the Celtic tradition, Michael represents the unconquered hero, fighting against evil and the powers of darkness. He is a model for valor and courage. We celebrate with a play about St. George, the human counterpart of Michael, taming the dragon.
Halloween & Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
There is a Halloween celebration at the school on the evening of Halloween for the students in preschool through the lower grades that includes story-telling, traditional jack-o-lantern decorations and modified trick-or-treating, with homemade goodies.
Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is celebrated with a memorial display of loved ones who have passed over and related craft activities in the grades Spanish classes.
St. Martin’s Day
In early November, a Lantern Walk, commemorating St. Martin’s Day (or Martinmas) is held for the younger children. The children make their own lanterns, and gather with parents and teachers, then walk through woods or neighborhoods singing, with glimmering lanterns held high, to carry light into the approaching darkness of winter. The lanterns, often decorated with stars, suns and moons, are symbols for the children of their own individual light. This walk into the cold, dark evening, following a story recognizing “the light” of another, gives the children an experience of caring and sharing when the darkness of winter approaches.
Thanksgiving celebrates a universal harvest festival time, when we can gather together to give thanks for the bountiful gifts the earth bestows upon us. A special assembly is held on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving day in the Great Hall, with presentations by the students of work they have done within the curriculum of their classes. Afterwards, children are released early from school to enjoy a long weekend with their families.
Advent, from the Latin “to come” is the period including the four Sundays preceding Christmas. With quiet anticipation we enter into the advent season with a candlelit journey inward at the Advent Garden. One at a time, each young child walks through the spiral of evergreens to the center of the garden, lights his or her candle, then places it on the returning path and picks up a gold star, a reminder of the dark journey through winter ahead. Weekly assemblies and daily classroom experiences through the Advent season prepare the children for the winter holy nights.
At this festive gathering before school ends for the holidays, the classes perform music to celebrate the festivals of the season.
Winter Light Fair
The annual Winter Light Fair, usually held on the first Saturday in December, is one of the highlights of the year for the school community. The array of music, crafts, and magical scenes makes this an extraordinary event for children and parents alike. During the late fall, workshops that are open to all are held to prepare the special crafts inspired by the Waldorf pedagogy. Friendships are made, new skills are discovered and the social life of the school community is fostered. Talents are shared and there are opportunities to learn stitchery, doll making, candle dipping, etc.
In addition to its valuable financial contribution to the school, the Winter Light Fair is of equal value in its contributions to strengthening the social fabric of the school community. For all those visitors who make the fair a regular occasion, it seems to be a way of experiencing the human warmth and artistry that make the winter holidays such a special time at our school.
At the time of the year when the nights are longest and the outside world the darkest, people have anticipated the return of the light, the spiritual being of the sun, for thousands of years. Light conquers the darkness after the winter solstice, when the days grow longer again. It is at this time that the Christ child was born into the world, the child of humanity, representing the light and love that each of us can nourish within ourselves. In ancient mystery schools, this was experienced as the incarnation of the Sun Being.
At this school, as at many Waldorf schools, the teachers perform the Shepherds’ Play for the community, which tells the story of the birth of that child and the shepherds who came to offer their gifts. Festivals from around the world that celebrate the turning toward greater light are also celebrated through stories and songs in the classrooms.
Three Kings Day
Amongst the magi of ancient Persia, the priests who studied the wisdom of the stars, it was known that a bright star would one day appear in the sky, signaling the birth of a great Sun Being. Hundreds of years later, three magi saw the star and journeyed towards it to find the child, bringing as gifts gold, frankincense and myrrh. On the first day back to school after the winter break, we celebrate this festival with a story. Sometimes the children have also seen the three kings journeying through the school grounds.
February 2 is Candlemas, marking the time of the year when the season changes from darkness to light. Traditionally this was a celebration of candles, which were made on the Winter Solstice. In the younger grades, we celebrate Candlemas during the school day through, for instance, the telling of a story or the making of a paper candle.
In the budding, burgeoning growth of life in the springtime, we see the fruits of what in the winter has been prepared under the earth, inside the plant, within ourselves. The Sun Being permeates all earthly matter, imbuing it with forces for continued life and growth. Each of us can nurture renewed life and strength within ourselves. We celebrate the Easter festival through stories in the classroom, the planting of “Easter wheat grass,” and an assembly of music and other classroom work.
The May Fair is a celebration of May Day, an ancient festival welcoming spring. It is one of our biggest community events of the year and takes place on the first weekend in May on the playing fields at the school. The school is decorated with bountiful fresh flowers and music, food, maypole dancing, and games and crafts create a fun, festive environment for families from the whole Eugene community.
Classes may celebrate other festivals as they arise in the curriculum’s journey through the history of human cultures. Parents are encouraged to talk to the class teacher about coming in and sharing other meaningful festivals with the children.