Child Development

Words of Waldorf Wisdom

Festivals: Natural Learning Through Seasonal Festivals

“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.”

Waldorf education epitomizes the concept of natural learning. It views human beings and the natural world as interwoven expressions of spiritual realities, culturing respect and responsibility for the earth, which provides sustenance for us all. The Waldorf philosophy integrates the natural world through everything from outdoor play, to gardening, to bread making, to toy making, to nature stories. Waldorf’s connection to natural learning is through their celebration of the seasons and seasonal festivals.

The celebration of festivals is an important part of Waldorf education. A festival is a joyous celebration of life, and has the quality of lifting us out of the ordinary and into the mysteries and magic of the rhythm of the seasons. Throughout history, festivals have emerged from people’s connection with their spiritual life and their search for the meaning of human existence. The celebrations are interwoven with the life of the earth and the cycles of nature.

Many faith-based traditions recognize the spiritual realities behind different passages during the year, and that is why special observances cluster together on the calendar. In the Waldorf tradition, festivals are meant to reflect the spiritual reality of what is happening to the earth during important passages during the year.

For example, we can experience the autumn in a natural way as we watch the coluorful changing of the leaves, feel the crispness in the air, and taste the tartness of a newly picked apple. We can experience it also, in a spiritual way, if we begin to perceive the beauty around us. The awe of a special sunset can quicken a sense of reverence, stir us to voice a few poetic lines, or feel an inner peace. A common experience of joy and reverence is what allows a festival at a particular time of year to unite a whole community.

“In earlier times, children were raised within the agricultural calendar. In this way they had the opportunity to live within, and to know in their bodies, long chains of sequences. They knew the steps in a process, and learned the lesson to persist until the goal was attained. From planting a seed and persisting through till harvest, or caring for a new lamb, through shearing, carding, spinning & weaving, these children had an inborn sense of sequencing. In our technological lives which are fractured by phones ringing, screens flashing, and a thousand distractions, it can be difficult for children to have a sense of the long rhythms of life, and the step by step sequences these rhythms involve. To celebrate seasonal festivals gives our children an opportunity to live these long rhythms, the rhythms of the earth and sun. These children will begin to know the long, slow sequences of their own human lives.”

Sharifa Oppenheimer, author of Heaven on Earth: A Handbook for Parents of Young Children, says this about festivals

Spring Equinox/May Pole Festival

The Spring season represents the morning of our earthly experience. The long winter has passed. Mother Earth begins to awaken. The energy of rebirth, transformation, healing, and renewal are finally here for the plants, animals and human beings.

Children experience Mother Earth's path through the seasons and particularly in the joy of springtime. The tiny buds bursting into flower, the baby birds and animals, the greening grass, all reveal to the child the cycles of life, the breathing in and out of the earth. It is time for planting spring grass, preparing the garden beds and dancing around the May pole. The children learn maypole and spring songs and sew beautiful garlands and belts for the festival. It is a time to celebrate the beautiful colours and new life the season brings with the whole community.

Other example of feast days in Spring include: Vernal Equinox, Earth Day, May Day (5/1), 

Author of Article: Jennifer S from the Natural Parenting Network

Edited by: Katherine Fulford