One of the ways we mark our journey together through the year is by celebrating what is unique about each season. The seasonal festivals are the most natural meeting place for our children’s celebratory mood and our own need to be conscious of ourselves in relation to the world around us. Each of us has childhood memories related to family holiday festivals. Truly meaningful festivals can help root our children in the rhythm of the year and also lift us adults out of everyday difficulties and struggles.
In ancient times, the festival life of a community was closely linked with its agricultural cycles. Today, human life is generally more removed from these natural cycles than in earlier times, but still our lives are profoundly influenced by nature’s forces and by the seasons of the year. Seasonal festivals, allow us to reconnect with one another and with the cosmos that surround us, that’s why we could say that they are more essential to humanity’s well-being than never before.
We are nourished by observing and participating in the passing of the seasons in the world of nature around us. If we adults are attentive, we also notice seasonal changes in our inner life.
Rudolf Steiner characterized the cycle of the year as a mighty breathing of the earth in relation to the cosmos and how this affect human beings. He tells us that during the winter, cosmic spiritual forces descend like a graceful mantle of snow upon the being of the earth and its inhabitants, in a kind of calm benediction. This is a time of a year for reflection and study. Reading or telling stories around a warm fire seems just the right sort of activity. As the days lengthen and brighten, our inner lives change direction as well. Innumerable forces are awakened and become active in the chaos of new growth. We may feel a new sense of lightness, even a release, a breathing out, of an inner energy that has been keeping us strong during the winter months. We are ready to greet the forces of new spring growth, often referred to as “spring fever”.
The festivals from Christmas to Whitsun are the festivals that are “given” from the spiritual world. From Whitsun to Christmas, the human being makes the journey of finding the way back to the spiritual world.
In the Waldorf Kindergarden, the seasonal festivals form the core of the curriculum. Through songs, dances, stories, crafts and foods old traditions are recreate. Many seasonal festivals are connected with religious holidays so teachers, with the help of parents, honor the cultural and religious traditions of the families who are represented in the class. Thus, the festivals of Judaism, Buddhism, of African and Hispanic culture, and of other religions and cultures may be celebrated.
It is important to say that at Waldorf schools, we observe the festivals in a universal way which does not conflict with the families’ religions. Anthroposophy offers a deeper perspective on both Christian festivals and Seasonal festivals, and through this understanding the contrasting attitudes are reconciled. Traditional religious festivals have universal meanings and universal roots. Through the study of the history of the individual festivals, it is possible to find those roots and build a bridge between the cycle of the year and the spiritual and religious content of the festivals. If we can go back to those roots and meanings and carry them within ourselves, we can be true to the children and only bring into the classroom symbols which have universal meanings and relationships.
Each season has an inner as well as an outer mood. In winter, we -like nature- are more inwardly with moments of reflection and deep insight. In summer, we – like the natural world- are more outwardly quite active. In moving through the inner and outer moods of the festivals, our children can develop a “flexibility of soul” that will help them as adults in living in the world and with others.