Here in the Northern Hemisphere, we are entering the darkest days of the year. The sun is down by dinner time, and even at noon the shadows are long and slanting. Holiday preparations are in full swing, and our minds swirl with plans for gifts, meals, treats, crafts, decorations, travel, cleaning. When we look out into the natural world, we see the opposite of this constant, harried motion. The earth is growing quiet. The plants and animals are storing away food for the cold months or preparing to sink into dormancy. When the snow comes, the quiet will be even deeper.
It is no accident that so many festivals are planned for these dark days. Celebrations of light, community, sharing — these remind us to carry the gifts of summer with us into the quiet of winter. At the time of the longest night, we find joyful celebrations of returning light. The Jewish celebration of Hannukah, the remembrance of the rededication of the Temple and of the miracle of lamps whose oil should have lasted one day and lasted for eight, falls at this time of year. The Hindu festival of lights, Diwali, has passed. Many earth-based traditions honor the winter Solstice with special joy, lighting fires and candles and exchanging gifts.
The word “Advent” means “coming” or “arrival.” It is used in the Christian tradition to refer to the four Sundays before Christmas, when people prepare for the birth of the Christ child. However, this seasonal observance has been kept by people around the world from all paths and beliefs; as autumn gives way to winter, we prepare for the return of the sun, the lengthening of days, and for the insights that we can gain from reflection on the year that has been and on what may be to come.
In Waldorf-inspired tradition, for many years, we have participated in the month-long observance of the rebirth of the light through songs, stories, craft activities, and the Winter Spiral festival. It is a way to give the girls an experience of quiet beauty in a season of busyness. Each week of the Advent season honors one of the kingdoms of nature – the minerals, the plants, the animals, and humankind – and this is brought into our activities and decorations as well. Each week, we add the appropriate items to our Advent spiral.
One of the things I love most about being a mother to young children is spending a lot of time reading with our girls. In our homeschool, we take inspiration from the Waldorf traditions and gather each Monday morning for a special story to set the mood for the week. We will read this book every day for that week, as well as any one of their choosing out of our seasonal reading basket.
I have started our own book collections for each season. Our reading basket contains a collection of books that I choose to represent the current season we are in. They are brought out at the beginning of each season or leading up to a special holiday, and I change these out as we transition into different seasons throughout the year. I have been trying to keep these books separate from our regular books on the bookshelf by keeping them in a special basket in the living room, and asking that they be returned there when we are done reading them. Above are some of the books in our Winter reading basket. The girls love getting to grab a special book every day, and they are always so excited to see what books are in there at the arrival of each new season.
(The winter photos in this post are from our adventures on Mount Charleston yesterday.)