When we think of the earth as a living being, not just a lump of rock rotating in space, we can begin to experience how the earth breathes in and breathes out over the course of the year; a contraction and expansion which is visible in the world of Nature and the cosmos.
The Festivals are special points in the year which mark this process. Formerly, ancient peoples experienced the ebb and flow of the year acutely and they celebrated these festivals in relation to the approach and withdrawal of the sun. Inwardly they felt an intuitive connection with the forces of Nature, and their lives were governed by the presence or reduction of the sun’s warmth and light. The changing rhythm of the seasons signalled celebration which helped them to deal with nature’s powers and express gratitude for her abundance and generosity.
Nowadays, with electricity, and technology etc we are, to a great extent, able to live outside of Nature, no longer subject to her rhythms as we once were. But with this ‘freedom’ we have a responsibility, reaching beyond race, religion, nation and territory. “We need to find festivals at once religious and united with the life of nature which can also unite us simply as human beings”(John Davy – Lifeways).
In contemplating how we can make our celebrations more than mere traditions we can naturally turn to festivals of the past, and if we feel such connections, to religions of the culture that we were brought up into, or alternatively, one chosen for oneself. We may then discover how religious festivals were woven into the rhythms of the year, and how the planetary connection between earth and universe plays into our festive life.
In the Waldorf School we work with these festivals in relation to the Christian year and try to find creative ways to express the content of each festival in an artistic way. In Kindergarten the religious meaning and symbolism behind a festival is strictly for the adults to contemplate and find inspiration. For the children it is through joining in the preparation of the festival, in the activity and participation of the festival itself with a particular emphasis on the celebration of the changing seasons that the qualities of anticipation, beauty, reverence and wonder are fostered.
The children live through their feelings into the rhythms of the year and, in the classroom, ring time, story, songs and craft activities reflect the seasons and prepare for the upcoming festival. Do try to come to those festivals to which parents are invited. If you can’t, please organise a ‘surrogate’ parent to be there for your child. Timing and details of each festival will be on the notice board. Always be on time please, it is disruptive for the whole class if one or two are late. Festive clothes enhance the children’s enjoyment and singing
festival songs at home adds to the celebrations. Watch the notice board for details of song practice times.
Although the festivals we celebrate at school are mainly Christian inspired, we are open to special occasions from all cultures and religions. If there are any you celebrate at home, please come and share them with us.
The school year begins with MICHAELMAS on September 29th. The holidays are over, the expansiveness and freedom of the summer has passed its zenith and we now experience a drawing-in to ourselves as we journey towards Christmas. The air grows cooler, the fruits ripen, the leaves die in a glory of colour and an atmosphere of melancholy and richness surrounds us. Michael the Archangel overcomes the Dragon, a picture of the inner strength we need to cultivate at this time of year .
This image is more appropriate to adults and older children. In Kindergarten, (through story and song, St. Michael is celebrated as the being of light who guides us on our way and gives us courage to tackle difficult tasks.) The children have the picture of Mother Earth who receives the fruits of the earth and nurtures the sleeping seeds until new life awakens in the Spring.
Come and join us while the children visit Mother Earth. Please bring a harvest gift for the children to give to Mother Earth; a pot of jam, or a little basket of fruit and vegetables. There will be a festive break of Harvest bread and jam, fruit crumble or cake afterwards. Festival colours: brown, gold and purple.
At the end of October comes ALL SOULS and HALLOWEEN. The spirits of the Dead are said to draw closer to the Earth at this time; the Spirit Beings are freed and human beings are exposed to the ‘darker’ side of the Earth. The nights are drawing in now and physically we experience a drawing-in to our homes. Bonfire Night is an appropriate Halloween experience, when the darkness outside is encountered and lit up by human beings. At this time, we also light the pumpkin lantern, an afterglow of summer’s light. Halloween usually falls in half term, so it is celebrated at home. Pumpkin lanterns will be lit at story time and pumpkin soup or cake may be made with the children when they return from the break.
Shortly after this, on November 11th, we celebrate the FESTIVAL OF ST MARTIN – THE LANTERN FESTIVAL. Martin was a soldier who, seeing a beggar one cold dark night, cut his cloak in half and gave one half to the beggar. The legend tells of how Martin later has a dream in which he recognises the beggar as Christ. On the Earth, the warmth of the human heart and in the heavens the light of the stars brighten the early evenings. We make lanterns decorated with the heavenly motifs of sun, moon, and stars. We carry the lanterns through the streets or parks, taking our inner light out into the darkness to share it with others.
Come and join us for a Lantern procession to share our light. This usually takes place late afternoon, so come well wrapped up ready with matches and tapers and perhaps lanterns for parents and younger siblings. You will need to consult with staff as to whether older children may come along. Warm apple juice and a gingerbread man are our refreshments. Parents may be asked to bake. (Parents essential)
In preparation for Christmas, for the birth of the light of the World, we celebrate ADVENT, the ‘waiting’. There are four Advent Sundays and through the lighting of the Advent Wreath the children experience the gradual strengthening of the Light, as Christmas approaches, and the inner mood of hope and joy grows. The first school celebration of Advent is the ADVENT SPIRAL where each child carries a lighted candle in an apple and walks the spiral, the journey to Earth. Gradually the whole garden glows more and more strongly and a mood of deep reverence is created.
The Kindergarten Spiral happens on the First Sunday of Advent (four weeks before Christmas). This is one not to miss, it is a very moving festival, a real help towards a good Christmas. Come and sing Christmas carols and experience a light-filled celebration in this dark and difficult time of year.
Festival colours, red, green, blue.
Please take the children straight home after this festival, this really helps to preserve the festival experience.
In Advent time we have the festival of ST. NICHOLAS on December 6th. Nicholas was a bishop who helped poor people. He stands for the good in life and comes as a helper to the children to prepare for the coming of the Christ child, encouraging them in their good deeds and gently pointing out their weaknesses. He journeys from the Heavens down to Earth each year. The children leave out a shoe and a glass of wine on St Nicholas Eve. He may then leave a few sweets or even a lump of coal and a verse for the older children. The shoe, a symbol of the path we tread through life, may be covered with gold star dust, a reminder of his journey from Heaven. The food is the sustenance, or soul food, given by the good St Nicholas for this journey.
If we are lucky, St Nicholas may visit the Kindergarten in the night and leave something in a slipper or a decorated paper shoe. (Children only)
THE LAST WEEK OF TERM AND CHRISTMAS
The children watch a simple nativity play performed by parents during the last week of term, and the mood of Christmas shines in every classroom at our end of term festival.
Your teacher will let you know if you should bring food to share in a festival meal.
CHRISTMAS is celebrated at home, not at school. Many of us feel overwhelmed and disappointed by the commercialism of Christmas, and it helps to bear within ourselves the right pictures for this important family festival. The mood is one of stillness and peace, an intake of breath and joyful expectation, a pause before the breath is slowly released. Into that stillness comes the fulfilment of Advent, the birth of the child within ourselves. The light of the Christ penetrates the darkness of the Earth and brings new hope to mankind. There are many ways to bring Christmas into the home in a meaningful way. One of the most effective is a crib scene created by parents, which brings a strong visual picture of the elements of the Christmas story (see Bibliography). Making small presents for family and friends also adds to the mood of reverence and thankfulness, and a candlelit story by the Advent table each bedtime marks the special steps towards Christmas Day.
NEW YEARS EVE – This turning point of the calendar falls during the twelve days of Christmas. It is time to look back on the old year and to look forward to the new. In the peaceful inner mood of Christmas time, we find time to reflect on our lives and make new resolves for the future. This can be done in an appropriate way with young children.
EPIPHANY – January 6th: The festival of the Three Kings at the close of the twelve Holy Nights. The birth of the child was an event celebrated in simplicity – in a stable with the animals, visited by simple, rough shepherds whose hearts were moved by the Angel. We experience this story through the warm feelings of our hearts. The visit of the Kings, guided by the star is experienced in the realm of thinking. The Kings consciously sought the Christ child because, through their wisdom, they were able to perceive the sign in the Heavens, the Star.
We may have standing figures of the Three Kings who visit the crib scene, bringing gifts of frankincense gold and myrrh. Such offerings from three wise men were symbolic – a recognition of the Child’s divine sovereignty of wisdom, His high priestly mission to the world and His dominion over the death of the body. This festival often falls at the end of the holidays, at the close of the 12 holy nights, but the children will experience the mood of Epiphany through ring time and through the songs, activities and stories in the Classroom.
In February, Winter’s grip appears as fast as ever, but this is the time when, unperceived, a quickening of the Earth takes place. This is the turning point at which the sap begins to rise, the plant life to stir invisibly, the animals to peep out from their hibernation. CANDLEMAS DAY on February 2nd is traditionally the time of the blessing of the new candles for Church. It is the time when the little candles of the earth, the snowdrops, first appear.
The children will decorate or dip or paint candles to plant in the earth, to wake up the sleeping seeds: one for Kindergarten and one for home.
Then comes the time of LENT, a time which is difficult for many; an intensification of darkness, which is experienced before the relief of the rebirth of the Sun in Spring. This period of seven weeks is punctuated by little festivals which inject an element of fun and light heartedness into our hearts. PANCAKE DAY, CARNIVAL, VALENTINE’S DAY, MOTHERING SUNDAY AND PALM SUNDAY all lead towards the renewal and affirmation of life which Easter celebrates.
Don’t forget to buy the lemons! The children will have had pancakes at school, so may like more when they get home! (Children only)
EASTER is the time when the earth begins to waken from the long winter slumber and the breathing out process becomes visible as the new shoots and leaves appear. With the small children we do not speak of the Death and Resurrection of Christ, but instead we speak of the death of the plants and the quickening seeds which come to life in the Spring with the return of the Sun. The image of the butterfly which emerges from the chrysalis is a profound image of the nature of the death and transformation of the soul. Pictures relating to the renewal of life are brought to the children through the Easter Tree, and Easter Garden, the egg and chickens, the Easter Hare, the Lamb and the sprouting seeds.
Come and join us on the last morning, usually at Ashton Court, for morning circle and a walk, and if we are lucky the Easter Hare will have visited. The children may hunt and put their finds in the teachers’ baskets to be shared later.
Volunteers please, to decorate eggs and bake hot cross buns. Please remember the eggs are from the Easter Hare and so should be done in secret! School finishes with the festival.
(Parents essential – it is very important that you arrive at the specified time or you might bump into the Easter hare.)
After Easter the sun grows daily in strength and by the time blossoms appear on the trees and the flowers begin to bloom, our hearts are lifted out of our heavy bodies. Now comes the time to celebrate, to dance around the Maypole, wear flowers in our hair, and live more strongly out of doors.
May Day brings promise: to the farmer, the promise of kind weather; to the girl who washes her face in the May Day dew, promising a fine complexion (for May Day dew is magic!); to the young people weaving a pattern of creation around the Maypole, the eternal promise of the future.
The children dress festively, and please send them in with lots of flowers.
Parents may be asked to bake. (Children only)
Forty days after Easter comes the festival of ASCENSION when Christ was taken up into the clouds and left the realm of the Earth. Now he becomes the lord of the Universe and of the elements. His being radiates down to the Earth. Something of the quality of this time we can hold in our hearts while we accompany the children on a walk up a hill, from where we can look down and distance ourselves a little from the world.
The children make wind wands, kites or other wind borne toys and the children celebrate by playing with these and with the wind either at kindergarten or out on a walk. (Children only)
Ten days later we celebrate ‘White Sunday’ (so named because people were often baptised at this time and wore white at their baptism) WHITSUN or PENTECOST. This is the festival of Community, when the Disciples, gathered in an Upper room, all shared a common experience, a bonding together. In this festival with children we try to cultivate a sense of community – the family, the wider community of friends and school and the still wider community of the whole Earth. The White Dove is a picture of the Holy Spirit, of one’s higher aspiration.
The mood for this classroom festival is one of sharing and of understanding each other. The children light candles and bring white flowers, white doves flutter in the classroom bringing peace. Please dress the children in white or yellow and bring in white and yellow flowers and greenery.
Parents may be asked to bake. (Children only)
On June 21st the sun has reached its zenith. The whole earth teems with life and activity. The flowers pour forth their scent and seem to reach towards the sun, the insects fill the air with their many sounds, all of nature has expanded to its fullest point. Just as Christmas was the time of the greatest darkness and stillness of the Earth into which the spiritual light shone, now we experience the opposite. The light of the sun is at its most powerful and our inner consciousness is diminished as we are drawn into the World of Nature.
ST JOHN’S DAY on June 24th celebrates the birthday of John the Baptist, who prepared the way for Christ. A powerful figure who lived in the wilderness and urged inner change upon the human soul, the voice of conscience. These thoughts which the adult carries within him/herself are embodied in the wonderful St. John fire, which should burn powerfully at night under the stars, stirring us to the depths of our souls to strive to bring about an inner purification and transformation. As adults we can contemplate aspects of our personality and habits we would like to be rid of.
We will go for a walk through the woods and perhaps we will meet the ferryman to help us across the water into the sunny meadow. Then there is time to play before we light the midsummer bonfire and sing around it together.
Bring food and drink to share, covers to sit on, wellies or jellies and hopefully sun hats, not raincoats!
Festival colours, red, yellow, orange. (Parents essential)
LAST MORNING OF TERM AND THE END OF THE SCHOOL YEAR
Come and celebrate our end of term. It is time to say Au Revoir to each other, goodbye to the big ones and perhaps goodbye to the teachers too, for some this will be the very last morning of Kindergarten.
Main school finishes the following day with their festival.
The school festival year has come full circle and the summer holiday, full of promise, has arrived at last. (Parents essential)
Birthdays – please find out from you Kindergarten teacher how birthdays are celebrated in your group.
Whatever your own cultural, religious or spiritual background, we offer these festivals for the children and you to experience and take from them what you will. Please help us preserve the magic and remember the details, practicalities and information are for the adults; the wonder anticipation and little secrets are for the children.
The Kindergarten Teachers
“The great festivals exist to bear witness to our connection with the whole universe, and to help us use our powers of feeling and thinking in such a way that we become fully aware of this connection. When this insight lives within us, the festivals will change their character and become living realities in our hearts and souls. They will be points of focus in the year uniting us with the all-pervading spirit of the universe”.