I had a friend over today who requested I write a post regarding the celebration of Advent and other Winter festivals within the Waldorf Home. She told me, very astutely, that this time of year was difficult for not just herself but for so many people she knew who did not have a true religious leaning – it was hard to know what to celebrate and why, and not only that, the consumerism and materialism of this time of the year really dampened her enthusiasm and excitement. She summed it up by saying like, “What can I show my children about this time of the year when I don’t even have it all figured out?”
This is a hard time of year for the very reasons my friend stated. I have a number of friends who encompass different faiths, spiritual leanings, denominations – atheism, agnosticism, Catholicism, Judaism, Islamic, Mormon, Presbyterianism, Reformed, Lutheran, Paganism, or just friends with leanings toward one place or another but no true “spiritual home” yet. And this December, we all come together to celebrate different things; whether it be Saint Nicholas Day, Bodhi Day (when Buddhists celebrate the Enlightenment of Buddha), Eid al Adha (Islamic Feast of Sacrifice, the most important holiday of the Muslim calendar from my understanding), Santa Lucia Day, Las Posadas in Mexico, Winter Solstice, Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa. But yet we are all in the darkness of Winter searching for Light.
It is my fervent hope this holiday season that no matter what our spiritual leanings are, that we are all working toward and being the most loving, compassionate people we can be. Our children need that, and our country need that.
I hope this holiday season and throughout the year we can all treat each other with respect and dignity. We are one in humanity. I had a beautiful family I worked with recently from Bangladesh and the father looked at me at one point and told me in broken English how he and his wife had just bought a house and how he did not especially want to hang around with the Bengali community in our town.
“My neighbor, he American and say he help me with whatever I need, “ he shrugged. “I cut my finger, I bleed, you cut your finger, you bleed.” He and I solemnly looked at one another over the head of his little baby and nodded at each other. One humanity, one world. That is what we should be about this time of year and all times of the year.
We are not the only ones with difficulties this season. Consider the plight of the Waldorf school teacher. In the book , “An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten,” edited by Joan Almon, she writes, “December brings special challenges to the Waldorf Kindergarten teacher, for Christmas is a vital part of our culture and a festival that brings joy to children. However, there is sometimes a tendency to be so overt in one’s celebration of Christmas that the kindergarten comes to feel more like a Christian Sunday School than like a Waldorf school. This brings great pain to our non-Christian families, but it is problematic even for the children of Christian background. Within the Waldorf Kindergarten the festivals are not meant to be “taught” but are offered in a light manner, much like telling a fairy tale, which allows the children great freedom to come to the festival as they will. When offered in a spirit of gratitude and with a sense of wonder and awe, something of the essence of the festival can speak to the children.”
In this same book, an article by Freya Jaffke, says this of the festivals, “DOING-DOING-DOING. Never reasoning why something is done in a certain way, although sometimes children have their own philosophy about certain things. Our task as kindergarten teachers is to try to transform everything we do, to transform our knowledge into activities: to make visible that about which we have been thinking.”
The joy of a Waldorf homeschooling experience, I think is that you can choose the festivals that resonate within you and your family in this season and little by little, year after year, bring them to light. Just as you would not bring a fairy tale to your child that does not resonate with you, you would not try to bring a festival to your child that does not resonate with you. So choose your festival carefully, and also the traditions that you start with these festivals as the children will expect the same things year after year.
So, let’s go through some of the Winter Festivals that are common to Waldorf Tradition and some of the typical ways they are celebrated. If the Winter festival you most enjoy or celebrate as part of your religious faith is not on this list, please do not be offended. It just means I could not find information regarding this festival/holiday in the Waldorf books and resources I had on hand. And I do hope people will post their holiday traditions in the comment section! Let’s share the beauty of our traditions!
Advent – Advent means that which is coming, so this is the time of preparation for Christmas. This year Advent began on November 30. Advent can be celebrated with an Advent calendar, needle felted figures of Mary and Joseph that start somewhere in the room and make their way closer and closer to the stable for Christmas Eve, an Advent wreath, an expectant Nature Table covered with a simple cloth. Some Christian families make a Jesse Tree.
It is popular in Waldorf to mark stones, plants, animals and human beings each week within the Advent wreath or on the Nature Table each week. So for example, the first week of Advent would include adding stones, crystals, shells to the Advent Wreath or Nature Table. The second week one would add representations of the plants – mosses, ferns. And so forth. Examples of what a nature table for Advent would look like can be found in the book, “The Nature Table.” There is a wonderful book that has seven stories in it for each week leading up to Christmas and the first week all the stories involves stones in some way, the second week the stories involve plants in some way, etc. This book is called, “The Light in the Lantern.”
My German friends have told me in Germany, Advent is a time of peacefulness, a time of cookie making and craft making. Paper window stars, making ornaments, paper snowflakes and straw stars are typical crafts for the season. Contrast to the hustle and bustle and materialism you see here, and think about how you can bring peace to your home during this time.
– this is a peaceful, meditative time for young children. We hold an Advent Spiral every year within our local Waldorf homeschooling group, and this is how we have done it. The Advent Spiral is typically held inside where a large evergreen spiral is laid out on the floor. The spiral is adorned with The room is dark except for candlelight – the candle at the middle of the spiral. The children come in and receive a candle inside a hollowed-out apple. One by one each child walks the evergreen spiral , which is typically adorned with representations of the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms) to the center where they light their candle from a central candle. On their way out of the spiral, there are gold stars on the floor and the child chooses a star and places their candle on it. All the children walk the spiral one by one until the spiral is lit up with all of the candles. The children look at it for a moment and then file silently outside to go home.
Saint Nicholas Day – This day is celebrated on December 6th. Children leave out their wooden clogs, shoes, a boot or even a sack on the Eve of Saint Nicholas. Saint Nicholas comes to earth on his snowy white steed, and leaves behind apples, tangerines, clementines, walnuts, hazelnuts and sometimes a little toy or book. In many stories, Saint Nicholas is the forerunner that reminds children the Child of Light is coming. Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of children, is loved in many countries, including Russia, where there are many churches dedicated to Saint Nicholas. It is a major day for my friends in the Netherlands. Saint Nicholas music, crafts, cookie cutters and recipes and more can be found at the wonderful website www.stnicholascenter.org. There are also some wonderful handouts regarding the relationship between St. Nicholas and Santa Claus.
A good source of St. Nicholas stores can be found in the Winter Wynstones book and also the little book I cited “An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten.” One of the most famous stories of St. Nicholas is about his rescue of the three maidens who had no dowry to marry.
Tonight, (December 5th) my littlest child was looking wistfully out the window into the darkness tonight, softly singing under her breath a Saint Nicholas song. That sweet knowledge of everything’s right with the world and the wonderful anticipation of good things to come. My children left out hay and carrots for Saint Nicholas and his horse (oh, and a cookie as well :)) and polished up their wooden clogs. Tomorrow they will wake up to one piece of candy each, a clementine each, a book each and small game to share together. We have Saint Nicholas napkins for breakfast and Saint Nicholas cookie cutters to try our hand at decorating. However, the best thing to do in the spirit of Saint Nicholas would be to do something wonderful for someone else, and not have them catch you whilst doing it!
Santa Lucia Day- is another day some Waldorf school and homeschools celebrate. This holiday is typically celebrate throughout the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden. You can google her and read quite a bit about her, but she is honored in Scandinavia as the bringer of boats filled with food when the people of Sweden were in a time of great famine. The oldest girl in the family rises early in order to make sweet yellow buns for the family breakfast. While serving, the oldest girl wears a white dress with a red sash and on her head a wreath of greens with four small candles lit – (yes, in this day and age you could use electric candles!)
Solstice – Unlike the very meditative inward experience of the Advent Spiral, the Solstice is parties and fun! Round, yellow foods prevail with hopefully lots of friends and music! Some families have a big bonfire, a Solstice tree, and some families “count up” to Solstice by starting with a set of 21 candles and lighting one each night until all 21 are lit on Solstice!
Look for a separate post regarding the 12 Days of Christmas and Epiphany soon. Hope you have a wonderful holiday season celebrating with your close family and friends.
Peace, love, and joy.
Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world.