Festivals

The calendar at Michael Hall, like all Steiner Waldorf schools, marks many festive occasions throughout the school year. At the cardinal points of the year are the main Christian festivals. Other religious festivals are observed too, of course, which help to deepen the children’s experience of other peoples and cultures as they progress through the school. In this leaflet, however, we shall concentrate on the festivals that are celebrated either by the whole school or by a large part of it.

 

Why are festivals so important?

This is a question often asked by parents and visitors to the school.

First of all, the festivals address the basic human need for rhythm and repetition. They form the heartbeat of school life. Each festival has its place in the cycle of the year and can be looked forward to and looked back on as well as being experienced at the time.

They give children an orientation in time, in a society where many of the natural rhythms of life have virtually disappeared. Secondly, we aim to cultivate feelings of reverence and wonder in our children and celebrating the festivals especially encourage these feelings. Moreover, it helps the children to develop essential human qualities such as patience – learning to wait, and the ability to look after things, by using the same objects and beautiful decorations year in, year out, as well as giving them sense impressions that nurture the soul.

 

Which festivals do we celebrate?

The festivals appear in our school calendar in the following chronological order:

 

Michaelmas, the festival of St. Michael29th September (or near then)

Archangel Michael is traditionally depicted controlling a dragon at his feet, or holding a pair of scales. We are called upon to wake up to the negative forces within us and to work on them and to control them, in order to achieve the right balance within ourselves. Here we mark the time of year when nature loses its vitality and goes to sleep; human beings, by contrast, need to wake up.

It is a time for initiative and directed impulses for the future. In the morning the Lower and Upper schools assemble for some recitation, a presentation and Michaelmas songs. Each class then goes out into the grounds with a specific clearing up task to do while Class 1 plant out bulbs that Class 12 gave them at the first assembly of the year. In the Early Years Michaelmas has more of the quality of a harvest festival.

 

Martinmas – 11th November

St. Martin of Tours was a Roman soldier who famously tore his cloak in half to give it to a beggar. This story is remembered in the younger classes but the festival is chiefly celebrated by the Early Years and Class 1 by making lanterns and going on a lantern procession after dark. The children and adults together sing songs to all that nature has brought us.

 

The Christmas Fair – almost always the Saturday before the beginning of Advent.

Although this is a very important day in our school calendar, it is not a festival as such. It is no doubt dealt with elsewhere.

 

Advent the four weeks (including four Sundays) that lead up to Christmas

Christmas is, of course, celebrated during the holidays, but the time leading up to it is magical for children. It is a time full of anticipation and excitement, not just about receiving but also about giving. All classrooms turn into hives of activity, filled with craft work, the making of cards and decorations and sometimes with the smell of baking. Classes 1 and 2 share a special advent celebration on the first or second Sunday in Advent, to which parents and friends are invited, which includes the children walking into an advent spiral to light a candle.

There is an assembly for the Lower and Upper School every Monday morning during this time, to bring and share a different aspect of Advent, through a story, poetry, carol singing and wreath lighting, all anticipating the imminent birth of the Christ child. In the Early Years, too, similar celebrations take place.

 

St. Nicholas – 6th December

The precursor of our modern Santa was, in fact, a third century bishop of a place called Myra, in what is now Turkey. He was renowned for his love of children and became an important figure all over Europe from the 15th century onwards. Children left their shoes out, often filled with some food for his horse, only to find them filled with goodies on the following morning.

If we are in luck, St. Nicholas sometimes visits a classroom or two in person, in full bishop’s attire, where he is received with much respect. He gently and tactfully points out the strengths and weaknesses within the class, and may bring a bag filled with clementines and biscuits for the children. Although he doesn’t visit the Early Years in person, St. Nicholas often leaves something for the children, including a trail of stardust.

 

The Christmas Plays

Just before the end of term the teachers and staff traditionally present the Shepherds Play, sometimes preceded by the Paradise Play to the pupils. This happens during school time and in the evening they give another performance for parents and friends. These medieval mystery plays from the island of Oberufer in the Danube, were discovered by Rudolf Steiner to be virtually unaltered since they were first performed in the Middle Ages and were subsequently translated into English and other languages. They are performed in Steiner schools throughout the world. We tend to perform these plays over and above the English mystery plays because of the beautiful simplicity of both the language and the images, ideal for presenting to young children.

 

Epiphany – 6th January

We usually begin the Spring Term on or very near this day, which marks the arrival of the three wise men (or kings) in the presence of the Christ child. This date also marks the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan by John the Baptist. The Lower and Upper schools assemble in the Theatre to celebrate this festival. The Kings Play, the third in the Oberufer cycle (see above) is usually performed, to Class 6 and above, during school time, and parents and friends are again warmly invited to attend the second performance in the evening.

 

Candlemas 2nd February

This is a festival that is exclusively celebrated by the younger classes, including the Early Years. Originally a Celtic festival to mark the midway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox, the church later chose this time to renew and bless all its candles, hence the name Candlemas.

At Michael Hall children often make an ‘earth’ candle, made up from collected and melted candle stubs and poured into a hole dug in a special spot in the school grounds. As we did with the lanterns at Martinmas, with the earth candle we recognize the elemental world hard at work behind the scenes in nature. It also marks the very first inklings of spring.

 

Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day – the date varies according to when Easter is.

Over the years this festival has become one of the highlights of the calendar for many children of all ages in the school. Teachers and pupils dress up, there are pancake races, and pancake eating; there is a parade in the theatre and classes often perform silly skits and songs to one another. In the evening, or an evening around that date, there is the Talent Show for Class 6 and above to enjoy, and for Class 7 and above (including staff) to take part in. It is a wonderful opportunity to wake up to the many and varied talents that may not be on such obvious display during the rest of the year!

 

Lent  – this begins immediately after Shrove Tuesday (on the day known as Ash Wednesday)

This is the time of year when we remember Christ’s sojourn of forty days in the wilderness and His temptation by the devil. The mood is now sober and serious, very much a contrast to the day before. It is a time when older pupils and adults may wish to give up a favourite food or a bad habit, a time to test one’s resilience in dealing with temptation.

 

Easter

Like Christmas, Easter takes place during the holidays. The time leading up to Easter is, nevertheless, a time of preparation, making decorations, painting eggs etc. Spring is in the air as nature around us begins to reawaken. It is a time of death, resurrection and trans-formation, which the Early Years and each class celebrate in age appropriate ways.

The Upper School has a special Easter Festival towards the end of the Spring Term, where these qualities are addressed. Parents and friends are very much encouraged to attend this festival.

 

Ascension

Forty days after the resurrection of Christ, the church celebrates His ascension to heaven. Some teachers may take their classes out to make a point of observing the clouds.

DSC_1366 (2)

Whitsun

This takes place fifty days after Easter and is also known as Pentecost. The Holy Spirit descended to Christ’s disciples on this day in the form of tongues of fire. Filled with this inner fire, they were enabled to go out and preach the message of Christ in any number of tongues and be understood. The Lower and Upper schools assemble in the theatre and often there is a reading from the relevant passage in the Bible (Acts 2, v. 1-12), in as many different languages as the school can muster. A story is told with communication and the sharing of understanding as its theme. For many years now the school has sung a beautiful song in eight parts, specially written for Whitsun. In the Early Years and the lower classes the children make white doves, which also represent the Holy Spirit.

 

Midsummer Festivalaround St. John’s tide, 24th June.DSC_0141

This festival very much involves parents, friends and old scholars, as well as the entire school. In many countries there is a tradition of jumping over fire at St. John’s. The fire represents the height of the summer sun and jumping over it or through it a ritual of purification of the soul. Although health and safety regulations make jumping through fires a thing of the past, the highlight of our Midsummer Festival remains the lighting of the huge fire by Class 12 at the bottom of the Valley Field late at night, after the traditional outdoor play – an event not to be missed (for adults and young people of Class 8 age and over).

Other events at this festival include a lower school pageant, side shows, exhibitions of work, strawberries and cream, teas and suppers on the mansion terrace and, of course, the play. Additionally, there is often a concert or eurythmy performance in the morning. It is a time for class reunions, and get-togethers; the prevailing mood is an outward one, looking forward to the breathing out of the summer ahead.

We are lucky in this country that our seasons are so varied. As you can see from the above, the celebrations almost always contain a seasonal element, which may reflect holy festivals that predate the Christian ones.

 

Are parents allowed to take part in festivals?

In the Early Years parents are often invited in to take part. Higher up in the school this changes somewhat. The large school assemblies make the inclusion of parents difficult (unless specially invited) due to lack of space but often, especially in the lower classes, parents are warmly invited to celebrations in the classroom.

 

School Festivals

About twice a year (sometimes on a Saturday morning but now more often during the week) parents and friends are invited to attend a school festival in the Theatre. Rather different to the seasonal festivals described so far, these are a sharing of current work that is being done in the classroom.

Not all classes take part in these every time but usually there is a demonstration of work from a wide age range – recitation, singing, music making, drama, eurythmy, gymnastics and foreign language plays or games. They present a wonderful opportunity for pupils and parents to see what lies ahead in the curriculum and also to look back and remember work from previous years.

 

Birthdays

Birthdays are celebrated in the classroom in an age appropriate way. In the Early Years the teacher often tells a story gently relating to the biography of the child; later there might be a crown, a candle and a special chair for the birthday child. The pupil brings a cake for the whole class to share (this can go on right into the Upper School)

Many class teachers give the child a special birthday verse, which they learn off by heart and recite on a weekly basis in front of everyone.  This ritual of reciting birthday verses forms a very important part of the main lesson.

 

What is a nature table?

In the Early Years and throughout most of the Lower School, the teacher has a table in the room which reflects the season of the year and the festival that is being celebrated at any particular time. The table is usually decorated with appropriately coloured cloths, a vase with flowers or other seasonal treasures, a seasonal picture, a candle and small puppets such as figures for the crib scene, flower children, gnomes etc.

Children sometimes bring ‘treasures’ to school which they have found on walks, which are then given a place on the nature table for a little while. The nature table is much loved, especially by the younger children and is treated with a certain reverence.

 

How can the festivals be celebrated at home?

This question is frequently asked by parents. The more that what we do at school is reinforced in the child’s home, the better it is for the child. Receiving the same messages from home and from school is very strengthening and brings an enormous sense of security.

Workshops on celebrating the festivals are sometimes arranged (look out on the website for these) and the Early Years teachers especially are always willing to share ideas and thoughts with parents. If you are interested in bringing any aspect of the festivals into the home please do not hesitate to contact your child’s teacher or get in touch with the Festivals Mandate.

 

Further reading

Many books have been written to help people deepen their understanding of the festivals. Here are just a few to start you off:

  • Festivals, Family and Food by Diana Carey and Judy Large
  • The Children’s Year by Christine Fynes-Clinton and Ann Druitt
  • Spring Nature Activities for Children
  • Summer Nature Activities for Children
  • Autumn Nature Activities for Children
  • Winter Nature Activities for Children- all by Irmgard Kutch and Brigitte Walden
  • The Spiritual Background to the Christian Festivals by Charles Kovacs
  • The Festivals and their Meaning by Rudolf Steiner

Since their inception, Waldorf schools have regarded the celebration of festivals as an integral part of school life. The education has its roots in western Christian culture and for this reason Michael Hall celebrates the Christian festivals, particularly at the cardinal points of the year – Michaelmas, Advent, Easter, Whitsun and Midsummer. These festivals are celebrated by the whole school. There are other festivals – for example, minor Christian ones, festivals from the Celtic tradition, those belonging to the other great religions of the world and children’
s birthdays - which are also marked by individual Classes in different ways. In addition, school festivals are held where classes share what they have been working on in the classroom with parents and other students.