As a Waldorf-inspired homeschooler, you have no doubt noticed that a healthy festival life is one of the anchors around which Waldorf Education is organized. These rituals and festivals have traditionally contributed to the stability of communities of the past, and now brick-and-mortar schools of current time. They create an opportunity to relate to the seasons, and to each other.
What then, does this mean for those of us who have chosen to leave a local Waldorf school, or, to never attend one at all? What meaning do these festivals, or feast days as they are traditionally called, have when they are practiced in much smaller group settings without institutional support, or even at home within individual families?
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It becomes easy to slip into thinking that our home-grown festivals and celebrations need to resemble what's happening at Waldorf schools - and if they don't, that we are not doing it correctly - that our children will be missing out on something vital. Spend any time at all on social media and this feeling increases exponentially.
(Initials in parenthesis indicate which author is speaking.)
(RW) For several years in a row I was a single parent. I single-mama'd my way through all the holidays and festivals - most years missing several altogether, especially the first week or two of Advent. Generally by the time I realized it was underway (usually because I saw someone else's beautiful post on social media) I considered it a major victory if I could slide across the evergreen bough finish line with a lit candle in hand, muttering "...the fourth light of advent, is the light of.....".
I started out those years feeling as though I was giving my children a somewhat "less than" festival experience. Thankfully (and a bit painfully) it was also during this time I was reminded that "comparison is the thief of joy". I began to recognize that all the striving to provide my children with an experience as good as their school experience was ultimately only making me feel like I was failing. Clearly it wasn't serving me or them. Eventually I realized there was far more value in doing a few festivals really well each year (i.e., deeply imbued with spirit) rather than trying to cram them ALL in in a somewhat half-assed fashion. Forced march to the May Faire anyone? What feeling exactly am I trying to achieve here?
As homeschoolers we have infinitely more freedom to dance to our own drumbeat.*
This applies no less to our family's festival life than it does to choosing the curriculum we're going to use! When considering the festivals coming up in any given season, we encourage you to start by identifying the overall feeling you'd like to imbue in your children/family with any given season. Then, work backwards from there and....
+ which of the festival options for this season will help us achieve that feeling?
+ do we need to do all of them? (seriously. do you?)
+ is there one that resonates the most with our family's values?
+ how can I keep this simple?
+ what ONE or TWO activities might we do?
Remember, even in Waldorf Schools there is great variation in terms of participation in festivals.
(CH) Most importantly, don't be afraid to improvise. The first Michaelmas after we started homeschooling, my husband and I were working away from home and 20 minutes from the ocean. It was exciting to have the freedom to take school on the road, but we were feeling the separation from the Waldorf school we had celebrated festivals with over the previous five years. After reading Michaelmas verses together at home we drove to the beach and made a big dragon in the sand. That night we lit a fire and wrote our personal "dragons" down on paper, then threw them into the flames to be slain.
Our son, who was 8 at the time, took it all very much to heart. As we wrote our wishes on paper by the fire, we glanced over to find that on one piece he had written: "For those who don't have anyone to help them slay their dragons." He clearly understood that the act of transforming paper into ash was a form of prayer/intention.
Keep it simple, believe in the ritual yourself, and the messages will not only reach your children, they will be mirrored back to you in beautiful and unexpected ways.
Last year we missed Martinmas (a personal favorite of mine) but this year we made lanterns in stages the week before the Feast of St. Martin. On the night of November 11th we made and ate soup together, read Martinmas verses, and walked the dark streets of our neighborhood together by lantern light -- just as children on the streets of many European countries do (lanterns being a sophisticated extension, some believe, of the bonfires that preceded them).
My husband's uncle is a priest with a deep knowledge of the saints, and I sent him a picture of our son walking with his lantern. His response: "Great experience. He is blessed to learn these traditions first-hand." There was no question about how many others were celebrating with him. Clergymen-and-women understand better than anyone what these fall and winter rituals mean. They are taken in community (and what is a more primal form of community than family?) but ultimately, they are solitary expeditions into our most hidden aspects of self.
There is clearly no substitute for the excitement and energy of large gatherings. In their healthiest forms we mirror one another, and we grow. However in some very important ways, the smaller-scale the ritual (and sometimes, the fewer the rituals we engage in) the more direct the experience can be and the more deeply the meaning can resonate.
Sending love to you all this season,
Cristina & Robyn
Cristina Havel lives in Southern California where she and her husband have worked together for nearly 2 decades. They homeschool their son using the Waldorf pedagogy as a guide and believe in the transformative powers of art and nature.
An early career as a park ranger led Waldorfish co-founder, Robyn Wolfe, to her love of illustrating and education. Trained initially as both a public school and Waldorf teacher, she has been involved in art + education for over 20 years, including homeschooling her two children. Robyn is currently working as the manifestor of the creative vision held by the Waldorfish team. Working out of the premise that life is short (but sweet!), she empowers soul-filled teachers & families to (re)find their JOY in teaching and making art.
All photos: Cristina Havel
(*We believe Waldorf homeschooling families are uniquely positioned to carry forward a faithful interpretation of Rudolf Steiner's vision for education. Here's an additional post focused on this idea.)