A Waldorf View of Martinmas

(Updated with working links 11/2014).  The time of Martinmas (November 11)  is upon us again!  This is one of my favorite times of the year; I wrote about some of my thoughts regarding Martinmas  last year here :https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/10/29/martinmas-in-the-waldorf-home/

Martinmas marks the burial of St Martin of Tours (316-397 AD).    St. Martin may be well-known for his compassionate gesture of sharing his cloak with a beggar.  This charitable gesture is at the heart of this festival for many Waldorf schools, who hold coat drives and other charitable drives around this festival.

This festival is the middle point between Michaelmas and Christmas; the light of Martinmas fortifies our souls for the dark winter and prepares us for the birth of Christ.  One symbol of this is working with light from lanterns in the traditional Lantern Walk.

Regarding Lantern Walks, the authors of the book “All Year Round” write:  “The traditional way of celebrating Martinmas is with lantern walks or processions, accompanied by singing.  St. Martin recognized the divine spark in the poor man of Amiens, and gave it the protection of his own cloak.  When we make a paper lantern, we, too, may feel that we are giving protection to our own little “flame” that was beginning to shine at Michaelmas, so that we may carry it safely through the dark world.  It may only be a small and fragile light- but every light brings relief to the darkness.”

As a parent, it is important for you to penetrate a festival or holiday and discover what it means to you.  You can then bring that to your small child, and your older children, in a physical way.  If you would like to know more about a Waldorf School perspective regarding St. Martin, one can read this article from the Gateways Journal for Waldorf Early Years teachers:  http://www.waldorflibrary.org/Journal_Articles/GW57martin.pdf.  Here is some information about St. Martin from a Roman Catholic website:  http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=81.

We usually host a Lantern Walk every year within our homeschooling group; this year my children walked with their German school but we were sadly not able to make our homeschooling group’s walk.  However, as a special treat, this weekend we are attending a Lantern Walk held by one of the German churches in our area that will include not only the walk but St. Martin on his horse!  This should be lots of fun.

Below find some links for ideas for your own Martinmas celebration.

Specific Resources:

If you would like to know more about a Waldorf School perspective regarding St. Martin, one can read this article from the Gateways Journal for Waldorf Early Years teachers:” http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/Journal_Articles/GW57martin.pdf

“Lantern Walk Story:” http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/Journal_Articles/GW3808.pdf

“A Waldorf Early Years Teacher’s Experience with a Lantern Walk: Here is one Waldorf teacher’s experience with a Martinmas Lantern Walk here:” http://www.waldorflibrary.org/images/stories/Journal_Articles/GW53gallardo.pdf

And another story:  http://herbnites.tripod.com/waldorfinspiredschool/id15.html

Examples of Different Kinds of Lanterns to Make:  (German website, but good pictures):  http://www.kikisweb.de/spezial/stmartin/Laternen/laternen.htm

Lantern Walk Songs:  http://astorytellingofcrows.blogspot.com/search/label/lantern%20walk%20songs

Many blessings,


34 thoughts on “A Waldorf View of Martinmas

  1. I am struggling with how to bring this festival to my older children who are busy with schoolwork and activities. I hope to take some time out of our afternoon to do something…perhaps at least bring some food to the local food shelf and take a walk after dinner in the dark. It is hard as they get to the teen years, yet still important to mark these times.

    • Totally agree. We all concentrate on the beauty of the early years, but the middle and upper grades also require our contemplation and planning, to really lively feel the spirit of the date.

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    • Sarah,
      Yes! Food drives, coat collections, I think as they get older being able to volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen or somewhere to prepare food for the homeless would also fit right in line with a Martinmas celebration…and i love what you did with all those old lanterns!!

      Many blessings, thank you so much for writing and sharing your beautiful blog!

  3. Yes, I didn’t articulate this on my post, but I feel like the kids were able to encounter light within the dark in a way that resonated with them. You could hear them in the woods finding their way. It wasn’t an official lantern walk (which they would have resisted), but this worked.

  4. I thought Waldorf Education was non-seculiar? I don’t understand the connection to St. Martin. I like the idea of a lantern walk and donating items for winter to those in need, I just don’t relate to the idea of commemorating a saint.

    • Hi Alicia,
      Waldorf Education is based upon Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy of spiritual science, so whilst it is not religious in orientation, it is spiritual. Martinmas in a Waldorf School is celebrated as an example of giving, of light shining headed into the dark days of Winter. Most Waldorf schools do a Lantern Walk, I am not sure if most have someone dressed as Saint Martin or not. Coat drives and drives for food banks are usually held by the older children at this time as well. Everything in Waldorf Education, even math, goes back to the upright, moral human being – it is infused throughout the curriculum. However, this is not a religious picture and all of the world’s major religions are represented throughout the years of school. Because I am at home and I am Christian, I do celebrate this festival and mention St. Martin directly – you can take what bits and pieces work for you. Saint stories are in second grade in a school, but you do not have to do them, and saints from all cultures and traditions are mentioned without mention of “St. so and so” – just simply called Martin of Tours or Elizabeth or what have you. You may want to gain a better understanding of this by reading Rudolf Steiner’s lectures on the festivals here: http://www.rsarchive.org/Festivals/ and about Waldorf Education, Religion and spiritual science: http://www.christopherushomeschool.org/learning-more/articles-on-aspects-of-waldorf-education/working-with-the-spiritual-basis-of-waldorf-education.html

      I think one also must remember that Martinmas is a typical German holiday as well, often celebrated with Lantern Walks and this was Steiner’s culture. The four main festivals that STeiner saw as the turning points of a yearly rhythm were Michaelmas, Christmas, Easter and St. John’s Tide.

      Hope that is helpful to you as you explore,
      Many blessings,

    • Ps. Alicia,
      Only take in the festivals that resonate with you, and add in the ones that do resonate with you and that work for your family!
      Many blessings,

  5. It is interesting for me reandig your journey and it does sound as if you have your home and family life very much under control now so I am thrilled at your progress, hat off to you 🙂 One day with all these little life skills you will be sitting down to dinner cooked by them. I do occasionally now with my two older girls, they are fabulous well adjusted adults who are entertaining, humorous and entertaining. After many years of wondering why and the teenage trials I can now really appreciate them as young adults and am a very proud mummy so keep chipping away! One day you will be sitting down to a fabulous dinner cooked and cleaned up after by them! xxx

  6. I am so sick and tired of feeling that one has to apologize for anything “religious” in Waldorf Education. It is not tied to a church or organized religion, but dealing with the history of Western civilization entails the study of and understanding of Christianity as a world event and all that followed as a result.

    Religion in Waldorf Education – Christine Natale

    Click to access Religion%20in%20Waldorf%20Education.pdf

    • “Study of and understanding of Christianity” is very different than celebrating Christian festivals, however you alter them to focus on upright human morals.
      It feels misleading to those of us who come from other religious backgrounds to have Waldorf schooling portrayed as secular when the primary celebrations are associated with Christian festivals. You don’t have to apologize for it, but it’d be nice for others if Waldorf owned it’s Christian basis more authenticaly. Steiner’s understanding of spirituality was Christian based, there’s nothing wrong with that, but Waldorf schools should be more open with that and how it shapes curriculum.

    • Rachel,
      However, Steiner also combines aspects of Buddhism and Hinduism and eastern meditative ways. So he essentially upsets everyone.
      And while many of the festivals are religious and based in Germanic Christian tradition, many schools celebrate festivals dependent upon what the population of the students who attend are. There are Waldorf Schools all over the world, and they do give nod to these festivals, but also include the festivals of their own culture. You might be interested in the work of the Association of Waldorf Schools in Asia, for example.
      There are Waldorf blogs from Waldorf families who are not Christian and they may do things differently. I am a homeschooler and we are Anglican (British Isles and Celtic traditions), so that is the point of view I write from. I can only write what we do in our family. But there are other resources out there!

    • I definitely agree that there are Waldorf schools who try to please everyone, due, in my opinion, to needing tuitions because we are not being funded properly in the Threefold manner. Yes, there is Anthroposophy as the foundation of Waldorf education and Christianity as Cosmic Event and Mystical Fact (not church based religion) as the Foundation Stone of Anthroposophy. I also agree that these things should be brought out and discussed very early in a new family’s introduction so that there aren’t any “surprises” later on. That being said, what it all really entails is difficult to put into an “instant iced tea” answer. I understand that many young parents have come from negative experiences of organized religions and often have strong feelings and reactions to what they perceive as symbols of such religions. The best that we can do is honestly describe the curriculum throughout the grades and assure parents that we aren’t trying to get the children or anyone else to “believe in” Jesus any more than Thor, Ra or Zeus! But we are intending to reach the hearts and souls of the young with a feeling for the Archetype of the Spirit, which has always manifested and which continues to manifest in myriad forms, in fact, in the Universe itself. We are using stories, mythologies and human history to awaken the feeling that what is Good, Beautiful and True is not always sense perceptible, but rather exists only in its perfect, primordial state in the super-sensible world and we may only catch glimpses of it as it shines through our earthly experience. We are also trying to imbue the idea that the Human Being is very much a part of this super-sensible, aka Divine Universe and that we, as heroes of many kinds are capable of raising our awareness to the level of perception through thinking, through our heart forces and through our conscious deeds.

      Just as we truly leave the children free to walk their own “religious” or “spiritual” path in life, with a foundation of experience from almost every world religion and mythology, so we must present the reality of Waldorf education as a spiritually based philosophy of human development and leave young parents free to reject, accept or struggle toward it as they choose. I would rather see a prospective family walk away and perhaps come back later than parents “fall in love” with the outward “trappings” of the beautiful schools and methods and later feel betrayed by discovering a spiritual basis which they cannot accept. This has happened too often and is something that we need to guard against as best we can by standing in our truth.

      Major Principles of Waldorf Education

      Click to access Major%20Principles%20of%20Waldorf%20Education%20-%20Christine%20Natale.pdf

    • Thank you, Christine! I was going to email you and ask you to chime in, so I am glad you did.
      Blessings, love, and light,

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