The wholeness and connection of human beings
with all life is at the foundation of Waldorf education. One way in which this connection manifests is through the observance of the changes in the seasons. Our community festivals connect us with traditional cultures the world over who have for centuries marked the turning points of the year, the equinoxes, and solstices, with ritual and celebration. These events become opportunities for outward observances of nature’s seasonal changes, but they can also become opportunities to learn about one’s own inner movement through the seasons of change as well.
“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 and our responsibility toward each other and the world.” -excerpted from Festivals by Marilyn Pelrme.
The following events occur every year, though there are slight changes in dates and times each year. Please check the school calendar for specific details.
Enrolling in a Waldorf school for the first time may also mean a first encounter with the celebration of the festival of Michaelmas for many families. It stands as one of the four corner posts of the yearly cycle of festivals. Just as autumn stands alongside winter, spring, and summer, so Michaelmas completes the cycle of Christmas, Easter, and St. John’s Tide. The meaning of the festival year can be understood on a deeper and more significant level if we are able to view the whole of the earth as a living organism, a concept which was much more alive for humanity in ages past.
Modern abstract thought seems to believe that the earth is mere minerals and rocks. With the picture of a living earth set before our eyes, it becomes possible to speak of an earthly cycle of breathing. As there is a drawing in of the breath for ourselves, so too is there an earthly drawing in as we experience autumn. The light, free movement and blossoming forth of the summer now begins to contract as leaves wither, fruit is gathered, seeds are formed, and the encroaching darkness is experienced.
The image of St. Michael with his golden sword piercing the darkness wells up in us, giving us the courage to face the darkening earth. With autumn, the earth draws into herself, and we also begin to draw into ourselves. Winter is the season of inner contemplation. When we look within ourselves, who knows what dragons we will find? The struggle of St. George and the dragon is also a powerful image at Michaelmastide. There is not only courage needed to deal with the outer cold and darkness, but also within ourselves courage is called for to shine light on those personal challenges we face as socially and morally-maturing human beings. When the deeper inner meaning of festivals is contemplated, a nourishing and sustaining quality enables us to participate and enrich our own lives and the lives of our families and our community.
Día de los Muertos is a celebration that comes from the blend of the pre-Hispanic Mesoamerican cultures and the Spanish Catholics. The indigenous cultures of Mexico believed that the souls of the departed returned to visit during this time of year. To this day,families gather to remember those who have gone, with stories, singing, dancing, and sharing a feast composed of their remembered loved ones’ favorite foods. The customs for Día de los Muertos are as diverse as a simple offering of flowers at the tombs of the loved ones to creating beautiful and artistic altars to honor family members who have crossed over. Each year, Austin Waldorf high school students create a campus altar in our Performing Arts Center lobby to honor all of our ancestors. Everyone is invited to bring photographs of loved ones, flowers, candles, and any special mementos that hold the memory of ancestors.
From France comes the legend of Saint Martin, who as a young man passed under an archway in the city of Amiens and discovered a poor beggar huddled there. The man was nearly naked, shivering with cold, and had received no alms to assist him. On seeing him, the young Martin took his own cape from his shoulders, tore the garment in half, and covered the poor man to warm him. The following night Martin had a dream in which he saw Christ wearing the same piece of his cape. The experience confirmed in him his devotion to all humankind regardless of their station in life.
Saint Martin was known for his gentleness, his unassuming nature, and his ability to bring warmth and light to those who were previously in darkness. On the evening of Martinmas, he is remembered in many French households with a festival of lanterns, carrying light throughout the darkened home, singing songs.
The Martinmas celebration is inspired by old customs honoring St. Martin. As the sun sets earlier and rises later, the world grows darker and the inner light of humankind wants to shine forth. Children and parents gather as the sun sets. Handmade lanterns, often decorated with stars, suns, and moons, are lit as a symbol for the children of their own individual light. And our walk into the cold, dark evening gives the kindergarten children and their families an experience of caring and sharing as we move toward the darkness of winter.
Bring your children and join us in the excitement of this festivity. The air is crisp and faces glow as parents are active with creating this event anew each year. The classrooms are set up with many different ventures for children and adults: the sweet smell of beeswax in candle dipping, the bright colors of wreathmaking, the softness of the wool and silk angels. The campus is decorated and rings with the sounds of seasonal music from many talented sources, including our own students. The aromas of a festive meal draws us to sit and socialize or quietly listen as the brass quartet serenades us. The school store and the silent auction offer great gift possibilities, all in the support of the school. The fair raises money for the school and brings people together in celebration. It is a festival which joyfully leads us into Advent. Click here for a Vendor Application.
Respecting and honoring the elders of our family and community are important values to pass on to our children. Grandparents and Special Friends Day is our humble effort to foster these values as well as to provide our guests with an opportunity to have a glimpse of Waldorf education at our school. All children’s grandparents and special friends are invited to share in this celebration which is now held on the same weekend as the Winter Fair. Time is scheduled for grandparents and special friends to visit the classrooms, followed by a brief presentation by each grade school class and the High School to give grandparents and special friends a glimpse of Waldorf education.
Advent is a time for quiet contemplation for what is to come during the winter festival, the revelation of a deep mystery. Advent, from the Latin “to come,” is the period including the four Sundays just before Christmas. In the tradition of the Christian Churches, one candle is lit each Sunday until the light of four candles heralds the birth of Christ. Yet Advent and even the feast day we now celebrate as Christmas have a far wider traditional context. For thousands of years before Christianity, the Egyptians celebrated the Festival of Osiris, the Celts and Druids held great festivals of fire and light, and the Jewish people celebrated Hanukkah. This holiday has had festival connotations of light and the sun, of the time when winter draws to its close and spring begins. Nearly all cultures have acknowledged the mystery of this moment. At the time of the winter festival, we can recognize that we too will ultimately triumph over the darkness in our lives. The celebration of Advent can honor and revere the kingdoms of nature. In the first week attention may be directed to the mineral kingdom. In the second week respect may be focused on the plants. In the third week appreciation may be given to the animal kingdom. Respect for the human being is then the culmination of the fourth week.
The Advent Spiral, a kindergarten and lower grades festival, is one of light, movement, and symbolic change. A spiral of greens or ribbons of cloth is laid out on the floor and decorated with crystals, shells, plants, and carved animals representing the kingdoms of nature. Each child walks to the center, carrying an unlit candle, which is lighted from the tall brightly-burning candle there. Moving outward, the child places the candle somewhere along the spiral pathway, bringing it to light. This passage reflects winter’s dark growing to a close and the renewed promise that spring light and life will begin again.
The Advent Spiral is also perhaps the most deeply moving community festival of the year. As part of the Adult Education program, opportunity is provided for adults to walk the spiral and experience its beautiful and powerful symbolism. Children are also welcome if they can honor the mood of quiet contemplation.
This is a European tradition in which Bishop Nicholas and his mute, Ruppert, visit children. In December, Saint Nicholas will make a silent visit to the kindergarten and lower grades classrooms. Golden nuts, oranges, and dates are left at the door for each child. On the eve of December 5th, in many traditions, children place their shoes outside the door hoping St. Nicholas will leave a treat.
A second grade student, dressed in white as Santa Lucia and wearing a golden crown aglow with four candles, leads a procession of classmates. Each holds a lit candle as they sing “Santa Lucia” and carry their light throughout the school. The second graders are busy for days before baking cookies they will share with their schoolmates as the procession travels to all the other classes, including the kindergarten.
Every other year, the faculty and community perform “The Shepherds Play” as a gift to the students and parents. Performing this reverential and humorous medieval nativity play is a tradition observed in most of the Waldorf Schools throughout the world. Who will play which role is kept a secret until the curtain opens.
Every December at Austin Waldorf School, a group of sixth grade students reenact Las Posadas, an annual Mexican tradition that commemorates the struggles of Joseph and Mary in their attempt to find lodging for the imminent birth of their child. In doing this they are participating a tradition that lives very strongly in Hispanic communities throughout the United States, Mexico, Spain, and parts of central and South America. In Hispanic communities Las Posadas are celebrated for nine consecutive nights, from December 16 to December 24. The nine days symbolize the nine months that the Virgin Mary carried the Baby Jesus. Each evening, invited and even uninvited guests arrive at their host’s home, playing the parts of the freezing Mary and Joseph. Each year, the sixth grade students travel the campus visiting the kindergarten, the grade school, and high school classrooms, recreating the holy family’s travels and travails on December 15th. Their journey ends at the administration building where they are welcomed by the administrative staff and treated to their morning snack of Mexican-style hot chocolate and cookies, fruits, and nuts. A community-wide reenactment is scheduled at the beginning of the holiday break and all are invited to participate.
Spring Fair is a gift to the community from the Parent Society and is a celebration of all the hard work done throughout the year by so many – students, faculty, and parents. As a family day, there are many free crafts, activities, folk-dancing from grades’ school Spanish classes, and the ever-popular cake walk. There are a few class fundraisers – chalupas, snowcones, drinks, coconut toss, dunking booth, and the flying fox. Traditionally, the Spring Fair concludes with the eighth grade class play.
In the fifth grade, Austin Waldorf School students learn that the Olympics were an expression of that golden age when the ideal of the human form, in physical beauty and inner grace, comes together to create something heroic within the individual and blesses all those who are fortunate to witness the event. As the stories brought by the class teacher take the children deeply into the imagination of this period in time, they begin to intellectually, physically, and emotionally experience an entire culture. And to this end, the fifth grade Pentathlon emerges.
The children are divided into the four city-states of Greece and dressed in white with beautiful colored sashes to distinguish their allegiance to their particular city-state. A flame bearer leads the group onto the field where the athletes present themselves to the crowds gathered under white canopies. One by one, during the course of the games, the children will read an ode that they have written to a God or Goddess that they have chosen to guide them through the events asking for courage, for strength, for grace, for agility, and for good thoughts to be in their hearts for whoever may win.
Featuring the long jump, running relays, Greek wrestling, discus and the javelin, the students strive with great intention to give form to the hero (the union of the divine and human) within themselves.
Class plays, which actually begin with the wonderful fairy tale puppet plays of the kindergarten, are an integral part of the Waldorf curriculum. Each year they are unique and are often written by the class teacher. Throughout the grades these plays reinforce the goals of the curriculum by helping with each child’s development and by building a strong class spirit. They are always enlivening for the entire community.