Waldorf School Festivals
Festivals – celebrating the coming together of earthly and cosmic forces
Why does Michael Mount celebrate festivals? In the words of Sharifa Oppenheimer, Waldorf teacher and author of Heaven on Earth: A handbook for parents of young children:
“In earlier times, children were raised within the agricultural calendar.
… they knew the steps in a process, and learned the lesson to persist until the goal was attained. From planting a seed and persisting through
till harvest … these children had a … sense of sequencing.
In our technological lives which are fractured … and [have] a thousand distractions,
it can be difficult for children to have a sense of the long rhythms of life,
and the step-by-step sequences these rhythms involve.
To celebrate seasonal Festivals gives our children an opportunity to live these long rhythms, the rhythms of the earth and sun. These children will begin to know the long, slow sequences of their own human lives.”
There is another, deeper reason. Clusters of significant cultural, folk and religious dates on calendars from every corner of the world indicate a universal significance to these dates – even though the meanings assigned to them differ widely. Interestingly, there is an observable relationship between these festival dates and solar alignments, such as the solstices* and equinoxes**.
* A solstice is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year, in June and December. The day of the solstice is either the longest day of the year (summer solstice) or the shortest day of the year (winter solstice) for any place outside of the tropics. Alternative terms are June solstice and December solstice, referring to the months of year in which they take place. The word solstice is derived from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (to stand still)
** An equinox is an astronomical event that occurs twice each year, in March and September, when the tilt of the earth’s axis in inclined neither away from nor towards the sun, with the sun’s centre in the same plane as the equator on earth. On an equinox, day and night are of approximately equal duration all over the planet. The name “equinox” is derived from the Latin ‘aequus’ (equal) and ‘nox’ (night), because around the equinox, the night and day have approximately equal length.
There are eight major dates celebrated in the world for one reason or another, and they all fall roughly on solstice or equinox days or on the midpoints between them. These dates mark the beginnings and middles of the four seasons of the yearly cycle. Rudolf Steiner attached particular significance to the celebration of these festivals, because the cycles of nature represent the many inner and outer cycles of human life, birth and death being the most obvious.
“Celebrating festivals can bring us consciously to what we all experience instinctively in our daily lives, the changing cycles of the seasons and of life itself. Through various festivals and rituals we acknowledge and celebrate our connection to …
each other and the world.”
– Marilyn Pelrine
Because the festivals originated in the northern hemisphere, those in the southern hemisphere have had to do a bit of maneuvering to make the festivals coincide with their own seasons.
Here’s how Michael Mount celebrates their chosen festivals, which fall on the solstices and equinoxes of the southern hemisphere:
Easter / Autumnal equinox – celebrated in March
The Easter festival marks the end of the first term at Michael Mount. Teachers select age-appropriate stories and activities with symbols and metaphors related to themes of new life and renewal. There are decorated eggs, painted butterflies, suns and roosters and, of course, the Easter egg hunt, in which young children search for eggs hidden by a mythical hare whom they never see. The painted eggs are brightly coloured, individually designed works of art.
The Autumnal equinox which, in the Southern hemisphere happens during the time of Easter, is a time of equal day and night, when nature is considered to be in balance. Easter is celebrated as a secular as well as religious holiday in both hemispheres, regardless of whether that part of the world is experiencing autumn or spring.
Easter doesn’t fall on a fixed date, but on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the spring equinox in the Northern hemisphere. Calculated this way, the earliest Easter can be is when a full moon falls on a Saturday, March 21, in which case it’s Sunday, March 22. The latest is when a full moon falls on a Saturday, March 20, in which case it’s Sunday, April 25.
In the Northern hemisphere, the Autumnal Equinox is celebrated with the festival of Michaelmas in late September.
St John’s festival / Winter solstice – celebrated in June
The celebration of St. John’s marks the end of the second term at Michael Mount. It is midwinter in South Africa then. The festival takes its name from John the Baptist, known as the prophet Yahya in the Quran. Catholic as well as the Anglican and Lutheran liturgical calendars placed the birth his on June 24, six months before Christmas. John the Baptist was a Jewish itinerant preacher in the early first century AD. It is generally accepted that he baptised Jesus. He is revered as a major religious figure in Christianity, Islam, the Baha’I Faith and Mandaeism. He is called a prophet by all of these traditions, and is honoured as a saint in many Christian traditions.
John the Baptist called upon mankind to seek the light. Hence, the festival of St. John’s reminds us to cultivate inner light and warmth. All students, except for those in the High School, make lanterns – a symbol of the light. Traditionally a great bonfire is built around which the students and the community gather. When the flames die down, students, teachers and parents jump over the ashes to signify leaving behind past troubles. Hot, nourishing bowls of soup and fresh bread is served. It is a memory-filled festival for everyone involved.
Midwinter has been recognised as a significant turning point in the yearly cycle since the late Stone Age. The Winter solstice is the day with the shortest sunlight hours. An example of this is Stonehenge, an ancient megalithic site that is carefully aligned with the solstice sunrise and sunset.
In the Northern hemisphere, St. John’s festival in late June marks Midsummer in ancient cultures of the Northern hemisphere. Ancient peoples, watching the sun reach its high point at this time, lit bonfires to encourage it to ripen their crops. The Winter solstice is celebrated in late December when it is dark and cold.
Michaelmas / Spring Equinox – celebrated in September
Michael Mount celebrates the festival of Michaelmas in the third term of the year. St. Michael – after whom the festival is named – is the archangel who was responsible for casting Lucifer out of heaven. Images of Michaelmas depict the Archangel Michael as a courageous fighter with his starry sword held high and also as holding a pair of scales. St Michael reminds us to be courageous in facing dragons, external and internal, but also to live balanced, truthful lives. Michaelmas calls forth strength and courage to face the truth. On occasion, one of the activities of this festival is an enactment of St George – Michael’s earthly counterpart – subduing the dragon.
Michaelmas is a time of great artistic output: drawings of dragons, stuffed dragons, edible dragons and more.
Spring celebrates the renewal of the earth, new life and all of the hope and joy that it brings. Nursery school children at Michael Mount celebrate the arrival of spring with a visit from the Spring Fairy.
In the Northern hemisphere, the spring equinox is celebrated as a secular as well as a religious festival, in late March. This equinox corresponds to the time or Easter and Ostara. Ostara is a pre-Christian goddess of re-birth and fertility, which is why eggs are often used to represent the festival. The hare (or rabbit) is also used as a symbol, because, in the northern hemisphere, they re-emerge to show themselves after a long winter’s sleep. Michaelmas is celebrated in the Northern hemisphere as part of the Autumnal equinox festivals in late September.
Advent / Summer solstice – celebrated in December
Michael Mount celebrates Advent with a variety of activities, including the reverent, light-filled Advent spiral, which takes place on the first day of Advent, the fourth Sunday preceding Christmas. The Advent spiral is a spiral of greenery, stones and flowers set out to lead the child inwards, towards a centre where a single large candle illuminates a quiet, darkened room. One at a time, each child walks through the spiral of greenery to the centre of the spiral and lights his or her own candle. The child then turns outwards again, spiralling out, placing the candle somewhere in the spiral of greens on the return path. As each child places his or her candle along the return path, the light in the room slowly grows. It is a quiet and moving experience that signifies a turning inward, finding light at the centre … signifying the inner journey of human beings.
Midsummer in the Southern Hemisphere falls in December. It is considered the turning point at which summer reaches its height and the sun shines the longest. This is the day of the year with the most hours of light.
Many traditions have celebrations around this time in December. Christmas – a Christian holiday on 25 December – is increasingly celebrated by Christians and non-Christians alike. Catholic Christians celebrate the Advent. Judaism celebrates Hanukkah. Pagans celebrate Yule and Yalda. Pre-Islamic folklore considered 25 December as the birthday of the sun. Saturnalia was an ancient Roman festival in honour of Saturn, with festivities between 17 and 23 December that included a public banquet, private gift-giving and continual partying during which masters provided table service for their slaves.
In the Northern hemisphere the Summer solstice is celebrated in late June, and the Winter solstice in December, when Christmas, the Advent and Yule are also celebrated. Because it is so cold and dark, this is a time when the soul withdraws into its innermost depths to experience the inner spiritual light.
The diagram below gives an overview of the eight major festivals of the world based on the seasons of the northern hemisphere. According to the Celtic calendar, Gaimos represents the dark half of the year – traditionally a time for reflection. Samos represents the light half of the year – traditionally a time for action.
The in-between festivals
The other four festivals fall on days in between the solstices and the equinoxes. They are:
Imbolc / Candlemas / Groundhog Day, celebrated in the Northern hemisphere at the beginning February.
Beltaine, celebrated in the Northern hemisphere on 1 May. The First of May is a traditional spring holiday in many cultures. Michael Mount has occasionally celebrated a Maypole festival.
Lughnasadh / Lammas, celebrated in the Northern hemisphere at the beginning of August. This is a harvest festival with thanksgiving for the bounty of the earth.
Samhain / All Saints Day / All Hallows Eve / Halloween / Diwali – Festival of Lights, celebrated in the Northern hemisphere around 1 November. Samhain is a Gaelic festival marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter or the “darker half” of the year. It is also a traditional time for remembering and honouring one’s ancestors. This is reflected in the Christian feasts of All Saints and All Souls, covering the proceeding two days. Various traditions exist, such as setting a place for the ancestors at the table on the day of Samhain. The festival of Diwali celebrated at this time spiritually signifies the victory of light over darkness or good over evil, knowledge over ignorance, and hope over despair.
See also articles and links at Festivals in our Resource Library, as well as more photos of Michael Mount festivals in Early Childhood, Nursery School, Primary School, Middle School or High School in our Gallery