Throughout history, throughout the world, festivals are celebrated marking important transitions in nature. They have been celebrated throughout the millennia as a means of renewal, as a means to maintain a connection with the passage of time, with the seasons. In today’s world where one can easily find oneself completely unaware of the seasons, it is especially important that children tangibly experience these changes, however subtle. These same festivals highlighting nature or a higher humanity help to foster wonder, reverence and gratitude in the child, three qualities so necessary in adulthood in helping one to positively engage within the human community. Were one to gaze upon the I in Thou of the other, our respect, gratitude and understanding of each other would increase tenfold.
We celebrate the following festivals at PCWS.
September Rose Ceremony, First Day of School
Each class is told an imaginative story by their class teacher providing an enticing glimpse into the curriculum they will study this year. At the conclusion, the entering First Grade class is formally called to the front by their full name where s/he is formally welcomed by the most senior class. Each upperclassman hands a rose to an incoming first grader and then escorts them to their first classroom, thus establishing a relationship that will continue throughout the year.
Michaelmas, September 29th (on or day after)
In the Celtic tradition, Michael represents the unconquered hero, fighting against evil and the powers of darkness. He is a model for valor and courage. Waldorf tradition celebrates with a story or play about St. George (the human counterpart of the archangel Michael), taming the dragon. After our assembly, the children march outside singing in a procession with shields and banners, followed by a work schedule to help clean up the school and prepare for winter, and an outdoor picnic with our dragon bread, baked by the 3rd Grade. Afterward, the children enjoy games of skill and courage. Celebrating Michaelmas reminds us of the value of hard work, steadfastness, strength and courage.
Halloween, October 31st (on or day after)
The Grades children and teachers come to school dressed as a character (or subject) that they have or will be studying this year. Consequently at the Grades assembly you might find First Graders dressed as princes, queens or animals from the fairytales told through which they learn their language arts, or math; Second Graders as animals from fables or people of great goodness and courage; Third Graders as farmers, builders, or characters from the Old Testament; Fourth Graders as Norse gods, local geography or even directions, Fifth Graders as ancient peoples from india, Chaldea, Egypt, Greece or Rome. The exciting assembly gives those children in Grades below a preview of what is to come, and those in Grades above a review of what they have already learned. After the assembly all of the children gather to carve pumpkins together.
Martinmas, November 11th (on or day after)
Martin was a conscripted Roman soldier and son of a centurion who was drawn to helping the poor. One frigid winter when he was on a long journey he came upon a scantily clad beggar shivering in the cold. He immediately stopped his horse and cut his woolen cloak in half to share it with the beggar. November days grow shorter and darker, so following tradition, Waldorf schools around the world have lantern walks at dusk symbolizing Martin bringing light into the darkness, just as his kind sacrifice for the beggar lit the way of a higher humanity in the midst of an indifferent society.
St. Nicholas Day, December 6th (on or day after)
Sometime during the night before St. Nicholas and Ruprecht will have made a visit to each classroom, leaving a special gift (golden walnut, or if allergies present in the school, a golden pinecone & clementine) for each child inside his carefully polished boots. Along with the gift comes a scroll telling the child of his strengths, but also his weaknesses so that the child will know someone is watching, and he can strive harder. Sometimes St. Nicholas and his mischievous helper can actually make a stop during the daytime, when his schedule permits, and the magic is even more palatable.
Santa Lucia, December 13th (on or day after)
In Sweden, the oldest girl in the family rises before dawn and prepares a warm drink and sweet bread, and donning a wreath of candles, enters each bedroom before dawn as a symbol of the light that will soon be growing again even in the midst of the coldest days of the year. In Waldorf schools this role is taken up by the oldest girl in the Second Grade, the other children become star children who accompany her to the other classes singing the Santa Lucia song while they offer the treats they made to each child in each class of the school.
Advent, December 16th (or about; the last school day before winter break)
The days are now very short and the nights are long. The children enter a darkened room to find a large obscured evergreen spiral decorated with hidden mineral crystals and translucent shells. This festival helps remind our children of our ability to bring our own light into darker times, and that while only one single light might not seem to light very much, when a child lights his own apple candle from it placing it on the spiral, as it is gradually joined by the apple candles all of the other children, the room is filled with light, and the hidden beauty is revealed. One small light when joined in unison in a community can create bountiful light. It is a very magical experience.
Three Kings Day, January 6th (or the day after)
On this day all of the Grades children eat a piece of cake or bread made by the Third Grade. Three pieces will have a tiny “king” or raisin hidden in them, and the children who find the king will become one of the three kings. Each of these kings will don a cape and a crown and go to the entrance of every classroom or office in the school, posting a blessing for the new year, writing their initial B, C or M, along with the new year written in Roman numerals.
Candlemas, February 2nd (or the day after)
This festival marks the time in the cycles of the earth halfway between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox. An ancient Celtic festival Imbolc, it makrs the advent of spring, of the days finally perceptibly growing longer and of the warming seed that will soon be sprouting. This day has now evolved into Groundhog Day. At PCWS we dip candles on this day, saving one for next year’s Advent Garden.
Passover Spring, after Purim. The 15th – 21st of the Jewish month of Nisan.
The Third Grade curriculum includes the Old Testament, and most Third Grade classes choose to celebrate this holiday. Depending upon parental input, the Third Grade class teacher may decide to celebrate a Passover Seder as well with the Third Grade students and their families in the classroom during the school day.
Grandparents and Special Friends Day, A Monday in Early May
Grandparents and friends enjoy a special reception and then visit the classrooms to get a peek at what a morning lesson is in a Waldorf school, before enjoying snack with their grandchildren. Afterward, all classes come together to show the grandparents a few samples of music, exercises or spoken work they are currently working on in the classroom.
The Olympiad, Late May
The Fifth Grade studies ancient history, including ancient Greece. It is common for the Olympiad to coincide with the study of Greek history in the Main Lesson. Our students join other regional Waldorf Schools in Richmond where ancient Olympic competitions are held. Events include the classic pentathlon, javelin, discus, the 100-yard dash, Greco-Roman wrestling and the long jump. Honor, beauty and integrity in sportsmanship are celebrated.
Field Day, On or about the last day of school
The Grades school gathers for an afternoon of all Grades field games organized and overseen by our Games & Movement/Physical Education teacher.
May Day Images Courtesy of Kay Sidahmed.