Annual festivities at Waldorf School – St. Michael to Christmas play
Annual parties occupy an important place at Waldorf school. The year gets rhythm and becomes clear by experiencing the seasons. That experience of the year, with a movement from turning inwards in the fall and winter to looking outwards and collecting as much light as possible in the summer, takes shape in all the different annual festivals that are celebrated at Waldorf school. The autumn festivals of St. Michael, St. Martin and St. Nicholas follow each other and lead us more and more clearly towards Advent and Christmas.
September 29 – Saint Michael
St Michael’s Feast is hardly celebrated outside the anthroposophical community in the Netherlands. There are many stories surrounding this feast, from Knight George who receives help from the Archangel or Saint Michael, to the angel Michael who chases the dragon from heaven. However, all the stories about Saint George or Saint Michael have one thing in common: someone fights the dragon and wins, with or without help. Within Waldorf school this is a party with meaning: there are many dragons on everyone’s path. Dragons that can tempt, threaten or frighten you from the outside, but also dragons that live within yourself: feelings or challenges that you find difficult. It takes courage to resist or defeat these dragons and take on your challenges.
St. Michael is also a true fall festival. The time when the apples can be picked ripe and the harvest was brought in to get through the winter months. Harvest is something to be thankful for. This can be the literal harvest, but also figuratively. What has this year brought you, in terms of inner wealth, development or challenges? How can you make use of the dark time that is to come?
Saint Michael at Waldorf school
St. Michael is celebrated in various ways at Waldorf schools, but ‘being brave’ will often be a recognizable component. In combination with attention to the harvest, for example, a game is played where the children have to grab an apple from the sleeping giant, without him waking up! Games can also be played in which courage and resourcefulness are important.
November 11 – Saint Martin
Giving and receiving
The story of St. Martin tells about the knight Maarten who was on his way to the city. In front of the city gate he finds a beggar who is cold. Saint Martin cuts his warm cloak in two and gives half of it to the beggar, the other half he keeps for himself. To be able to donate something you must have enough, if you give away the whole mantle you will get cold yourself. Receiving also plays a role: the beggar received half a cloak, the other half of the heat he will have to provide himself.
Light in the darkness
St. Maarten is also 40 days before the shortest day, this is where the preparation for the dark winter time really starts. In those dark days it is important that you can continue to find a light in the darkness. This can be the darkness outside of yourself but also the darkness within you. Where are the bright spots?
St. Maarten at Waldorf school
In many Waldorf schools, tubers are hollowed out and decorated into lanterns. Pumpkins shine through beautifully but do not come from the dark earth, and are therefore less preferred. The light in the dark becomes so literal: in something that comes from the dark earth, we let a candle burn. The children go door to door with their lanterns and ask for good gifts with songs. Very sooner children were given dried fruit or chestnuts, which were then roasted later. Nowadays, the good gifts are very different per region and per school.
December 5 – Sinterklaas
From the moment Saint Nicholas sets foot, expectations for all children are high. It is actually very special that the ultimately expected party on December 5th takes place around the first Advent. The expectation starts with Sinterklaas and is taken over by the expectation of the Christmas child in December. Sinterklaas is a saint, and everyone in the Netherlands knows him as a venerable donor of gifts that are put in your shoe through the chimney.
Child in yourself
Sinterklaas is the child’s friend, but you could also see him as the friend of the child in you. By making the surprises and poems you develop your creativity, but also the connection with those for whom you are working. The trick is to stay connected with that child within yourself.
Sinterklaas at Waldorf school
Waldorf schools consciously opt for an atmosphere of expectation, respect and trust. That is a very different atmosphere from that often created on television, where it is often questionable whether the party or the arrival can continue due to all kinds of disasters and awkwardnesses. The arrival of Sinterklaas is often a quiet, venerable arrival at school in which the children sing songs and perhaps show something. In consultation, the school and parents devise for each class what the children will receive. These are often gifts that have to be made by the parents themselves in advance: a box to keep treasures in, a climbing gnome, or a folder for the paintings, for example. Each parent will (secretly) work with this for his or her own child and the results will be handed out by Sinterklaas in the classroom.
Light in yourself
The time of Advent is the time when it is getting darker outside. We are on our way to the shortest day and of course the Christmas party. In that dark time we will have to find ourselves the light to overcome this darkness. The candles lit with Advent help us to find and keep this light within ourselves on the way to these darkest days.
But Advent is also the time when we prepare ourselves for the Christmas child, which brings the greatest light. By approaching this light with an open mind, it may find new, unexplored places in your mind.
Advent at Waldorf School
The Advent season is experienced by the entire substructure. From the first grade (group 3), usually on the Monday after each Advent, there are celebrations with the whole school together, songs are sung and candles are lit on the Advent wreath. The candles are taken to the classroom to light the class Advent wreath. Sometimes it burns all morning, sometimes only during part of the morning. For toddlers, this often starts with an Advent garden: a spiral on the ground, formed by fir branches with a candle in the middle. The teacher tells a story and while the class sings, the children walk in one by one to light their own candle and go out again. They take this inner light out with them. The second and third advent also have their own character. The fourth Advent is almost never celebrated because it usually falls during the Christmas holidays.
Source of light
With the birth of the Christmas child we open ourselves to the light. The light that we had to find deeper and deeper in ourselves can now start to grow. From now on the days will lengthen again and the light we carry within us will also be visible outside of us.
Christmas at Waldorf school
Unlike many regular schools, you will not find a Christmas dinner at many Waldorf schools. In kindergarten, and often in the first and second grade, the Christmas story is acted out. The children practice this together during Advent and in the last weeks parents are allowed to watch the game in the classroom or in the auditorium. During the same period, the teachers prepare a Christmas game. Sometimes this is preceded by a paradise game. The paradise game tells of the creation and the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. The Christmas play is a logical continuation of this because this play tells of the birth of Christ, the child who comes to earth and raises the hope of an earthly paradise. He’s coming to make up for what went wrong before. This is the Oberufer Christmas play that was performed centuries ago and now the language can still tell that it is an old-fashioned piece. At the time, all roles were played by peasants, including the role of Mary and angel, and now the players empathize with that peasant culture. You could ask the question why a more modern version of this story or another Christmas story is not chosen. Yet again and again the choice is made to keep the Christmas game as it is, including the somewhat old language. The story remains topical, the images that the children see every year can become anchored in the memory through the repetition: they become a kind of primal images. The adults too can discover new things every year in this simple but comforting game.