I have a friend, who asked for some information about what to do for seasonal traditions, so I thought I would write a post regarding the celebration of Advent and other Winter festivals within the 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 something along the lines of, “What can I show my children about this time of the year when I don’t even have it all figured out?” I definitely do NOT have it all figured out but I thought I would share some information and what we do as a family.
This is a hard time of year for the very reasons my friend stated. I have a number of friends who encompass a range of 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 every December, we all 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 needs that as well.
I hope this holiday season and throughout the year we can all treat each other with respect and dignity. We are one in humanity. One humanity, one world. That is what we should be about this time of year and all times of the year.
In the book, An Overview of the Waldorf Kindergarten, 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 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-inspired 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 us 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 share their holiday traditions in the comment section! Let us share the beauty of our traditions with others!
Advent means that which is coming, so this is the time of preparation for Christmas. This year Advent began on December 2. 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 tradition 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, and/or shells to the Advent Wreath or Nature Table. The second week, one would add representations of the plants – mosses, ferns, etc. 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.
In some European countries, and in years past - as in my own childhood, 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 in America, and think about how you can bring peace to your home during this time.
This is a peaceful, meditative time for young children, and it is something I have tried to keep as one of our most important Winter traditions. We have a lovely, wooden Advent Spiral every year on the dining table, that we use every evening at the close of our evening meal. We eat each meal with homemade candles burning, but during Advent, at the very end of the meal, we turn off all the lights, and light the candles of the Advent Spiral. One candle is add every night, as we progress through the Advent season (so tonight, we will light eighteen candles). We read an Advent devotional and a story or verse, and then close with a Christmas song. The girls sit quietly in the soft glow of the candlelight as I read and sing. It is a wonderful way to transition from the busyness of the day into the slowness of preparing for bedtime. It has become one of their favorite activities of the season.
This year, we are also going to be doing another version of this with our Forest School friends on Winter Solstice (December 21). The Advent Spiral is typically held where a large evergreen spiral is laid out on the ground (or floor). It is generally held at dusk, when it is dark enough to have your light be from the candles within the spiral. If held inside, 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 stand in quiet reverence for a moment and then either gather for a meal or quietly go home to their own dinner tables. I will be sharing more about the significance of the Winter Solstice and Spiral in a future post.
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 significant holiday 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 mentioned above, 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.
Saint Lucia Day is another day some Waldorf schools and homeschools celebrate. This holiday is typically celebrate throughout the Scandinavian countries, especially Sweden. You can Google and read quite a bit about St Lucia, 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 – (in this day and age you could use electric candles, if you did not wish to have a potential fire hazard).
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! We celebrate the Winter Solstice a little differently, and it is more like a combination of several celebrations. Keep an eye out for more posts on how we celebrate the Winter Solstice as a family.
Peace, love, and joy. Just a few thoughts from my little corner of the world...