Saturday, December 1, 2018.
What is Winter Festival?
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.
In Waldorf schools, Winter Festival is an annual curriculum event. Held the first Saturday in December, our community joins forces for this on campus event to enjoy student musical performances and Festival Singers, participate in crafts and booths for each grade, and celebrate togetherness in the holiday season. In our school, the grades students gather each Monday morning throughout December for a special story to set the mood for the week. Each week honors one of the kingdoms of nature – the minerals, the plants, the animals, and humankind – and this is brought into classroom activities and decoration as well.
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 Hanukkah, 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 just passed. Many earth-based traditions honor the winter Solstice with special joy, lighting fires and candles and exchanging gifts.
The most iconic element of Winter Festival is the Advent Spiral. 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.
The Advent Spiral is the beautiful finale to a festival that is unique in our community. There are no presentations by the grades, no speeches by the administration. Instead, we gather together as a candle is lit in the center of a spiral of evergreen boughs, a symbol of life amidst the dead of winter. Then, as quiet music plays, one by one, each child in Grade 7 takes a candle into the center of that spiral and lights it, then places the candle in a holder along the path. The lights brighten the path for those who come after. Each child walks alone, at his or her own pace, in his or her own way.
Excerpted from City of Lakes Waldorf School.