The celebration of festivals is an important part of Waldorf education. A festival is a joyous celebration of life, and has the quality of lifting us out of the ordinary and into the mysteries and magic of the rhythm of the seasons. Throughout history, festivals have emerged from people’s connection with their spiritual life and their search for the meaning of human existence. The celebrations are interwoven with the life of the earth and the cycles of nature.
Many faith-based traditions recognize the spiritual realities behind different passages during the year, and that is why special observances cluster together on the calendar. In the Waldorf tradition, festivals are meant to reflect the spiritual reality of what is happening to the earth during important passages during the year.
For example, we can experience the autumn in a natural way as we watch the colorful changing of the leaves, feel the crispness in the air, and taste the tartness of a newly picked apple. We can experience it also, in a spiritual way, if we begin to perceive the beauty around us. The awe of a special sunset can quicken a sense of reverence, stir us to voice a few poetic lines, or feel an inner peace. A common experience of joy and reverence is what allows a festival at a particular time of year to unite a whole community.
Singing, dancing, stories, food and sharing are all a part of the festivals of the year. Waldorf School of St. Louis celebrates the following:
Michaelmas, as it is observed in Waldorf schools, is the “festival of courage” celebrated as the earth traverses the tail end of the late summer meteor showers and the northern hemisphere begins to tilt away from the sun. Michael, the archangel who inspires courage, is associated with this festival time. Through the inspiration of this angelic being, the lowly peasant, George, was inspired to persevere, though the odds were stacked against him, to complete a daunting task, slaying the “dragon”.
Do any of us face a daunting task? Do Waldorf initiatives face a daunting task? Does the earth itself face a daunting future? Even in the traditional stories of St. George, an important aspect is always that, although many have come before him in trying to defeat the dragon, it is only he, who comes during the autumn harvest time who is able to complete the task. The Jewish tradition of Yom Kippur observed around this time requires one to go deep within one’s own depths (to face the “dragon” within?) and to be truthful in making atonement. This requires the greatest courage of all. This is the spiritual connection between these two outwardly different observances.
Our Michaelmas festival includes a performance of the St. Michael play, a delicious pot-luck style picnic and silk dyeing in fresh vegetable dye pots. Michaelmas is a community favorite.
Martinmas Lantern Walk
Martinmas has been called the “festival of compassion.” Based on the story of St. Martin of Tours, a Roman soldier who abandoned his position of high rank and wealth to devote his life to serving the poor, this festival invites us to follow the lantern light through the gathering darkness, joining with others who also have chosen the way of compassion. The Hindu Diwali “festival of lights” also takes place around this time. At WSSL, we meet in the meadow, lighted by the lanterns the children have made during school time and listen to the story of Martin as performed by our grades students. We then join together for song and fellowship with our neighbors.
Grandparents’ / Special Friends Day
Grandparents’ Day is the Thanksgiving celebration. It is complete with song and good cooking and children’s performances. The students’ grandparents and/or special friends visit Waldorf School of St. Louis for a lovely morning of classroom sharing. This celebration takes place in November, the day before the Thanksgiving holiday. All classes are dismissed at noon.
The Waldorf “Winter Garden” coincides with the beginning of the Christian observation of advent (four weeks preceding Christmas) and the Jewish festival of Chanukah, the celebration of the miracle of the oil lamp in the temple which continued to burn even though its oil had run out. In the Winter Garden, the children traverse an evergreen spiral, to light a candle from the source, deep within the center of the spiral. As we approach the darkest day of the year, we must search for that inner light and strength to sustain us through dark times. WSSL families participate in the Winter Garden in December each year.
May celebrations come from a tradition of the celebration of the beginning of summer. Children and adults have traditionally worn flowers when dancing around a May Pole. A “May Crown” or wreath of flowers for the head symbolized the full arrival of spring and new growth. Mayfest takes place on the first Saturday of May each year.
Rainbow Bridge / Silver & Gold
The Rainbow Bridge ceremony celebrates the transition made by Kindergarten students who are rising into Grade One. These children cross the Rainbow Bridge from their dreamy world of play into a more awakened state, ready to take on focused academic lessons. A performance by the Grades classes is shared.
A pot-luck Silver & Gold picnic is combined with this ceremony. This community-wide picnic ends the year celebrating new and old friends.