Seasonal festivals serve to connect humanity with the rhythms of nature. For children, these festivals mark the seasons with joy and anticipation for preparing for these celebrations.
No matter what your faith, this is a guide to celebrating Advent.
Advent takes place on the four Sundays that lead up to Christmas. Many people celebrate Advent and do not celebrate Christmas at all. The two need not be linked.
What is Advent?
Advent is about the spirit of peace, warmth, light, and gentle preparation. Although associated with Christianity, Advent was celebrated initially by Pagan communities to honour the weeks leading up to the Winter Solstice. The winter holiday season, in most of the major religions, shares the theme of bringing light and warmth into the dark, and this is expressed by physically lighting up the darkness with candles and holiday lights, as well as by sharing the light of company, family, food, and traditions of giving. In what can often be a stressful time of year for families, Advent offers a slower, kinder rhythm and an inwardly richer view.
In your family, you can use the traditions of Advent, whether its meaning is bringing light and warmth or also in anticipation of Christmas
How can you celebrate Advent at home?
In Waldorf education, each week of Advent is assigned a "theme" and is a time for reflection and gratitude for the four natural kingdoms on Earth.
Week 1: stones & minerals
Week 2: plants
Week 3: animal kingdom
Week 4: humankind
A simple first step to bringing Advent to your family could be to light a candle each night (or once a week on the four Sundays leading up to Christmas), say the verse lines for that week and read stories that focus on that week's theme. You could also bring rocks to place around your candle in the first week, followed by something to represent the rest of the themes during those weeks.
Waldorf/Steiner Verse for Advent: (Beginning the first week, you speak the first two lines, then the second week, you build upon the first by saying the first two lines and adding the next two, etc. By the fourth week, you are saying all eight lines of the verse).
The first light of Advent is the light of stones.
Stones that live in crystals, seashells, and bones.
The second light of Advent is the light of plants.
Plants that reach up to the sun and in the breezes dance.
The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.
The light of hope that we see, in the greatest and the least.
The fourth light of Advent is the human light.
The light of hope and of thought, to know and do what's right.
St. Nicholas Day
St. Nicholas Day is December 6th, after the first week of Advent. St. Nicholas, the patron saint of children, encourages generosity, kindness and the idea that it is better to give than receive. Please read more about it HERE if you wish to bring this part of Advent to your family.
After the second week of Advent, the Celebration of Santa Lucia, also known as the festival of lights, happens. Traditionally, a young woman would represent Santa Lucia, and on the morning of December 13th, wearing a white dress with a red sash and a wreath on her head with seven candles upon it, she would go from house to house bringing baked goods. The candles of her headpiece brought a welcoming light to the darkest time of year. You can read more about it HERE
The gift of the light
We shall thankfully take
But it shall not be alone for our sake.
The more we give light,
The one to the other,
It grows and gives light,
And shines even farther.
Until every heart,
By love set aflame
In every place
Great joy shall proclaim.
Not long shall continue the darkness of year.
The light draws near.
The Advent Spiral happens on the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. Cedar boughs (a symbol of life everlasting) are placed in a spiral forming a path in a darkened room. In the centre of the spiral, there is a large lit candle. With an unlit candle in hand, children and parents take turns walking the path in silence to the centre, where they light their candle and then place it with care along the path as they slowly exit the spiral. As more and more candles are lit, their gentle light begins to glow with the warmth of your family. The reverence of children and parents makes this traditional event one of inspiration and harmony. We are nearing the end of our journey through the darkness, internally and externally, and the light will soon return. This light will bring the promise of a new year that we will approach with a renewed sense of self and emerge from the darkness transformed.
There are so many ways to celebrate Advent and count down to Christmas. Here are a few we found, but you could easily do some more research and find something that would work for your family.
"I carry a light within me
A brightly burning flame.
Though dark may try to win me
It ever shines the same.
It guides me through uncertainty
It warms the wintry weather.
And brings to every burden
The lightness of a feather."
Since Autumn began, there has been a steady diminishing of the sunlight in our lives. This yearly transition has been calling us to kindle the light within ourselves. We have talked about the Festival of Courage in September as a way to ignite a flame that brings courage into the coming darkness. We then discussed celebrating the Festival of Compassion or the Lantern Festival in November as a way to honour the light we have been carrying within us and how that expands and burns brighter in our communities.
Many religions around the world acknowledge this season as the time for the Festival of Light. Each day since Fall began has been a step closer to the darkest day of the year. The beautiful thing about the Winter Solstice is that the darkest night also marks the beginning of the light's slow return. In ancient days, darkness would have brought fear and uncertainty, so marking this time with firelight brought hope and warmth to all. In our modern time, although we have knowledge and certainty that the light will return, it can still be challenging psychologically to manage this darkness with patience. Festival and ritual are a way of marking these important moments in the darkness and creating stepping stones that we can follow back to the light.
Daily Wonder encourages families to explore and learn about the variety of Festivals of Lights around the world. The best way to learn about a new festival is to connect with friends, neighbours and community members who celebrate a different holiday than yourself. If that's not an option for you, check out these links below to learn how to experience various festivals. Connecting with food, music, and ritual is the best way to do this.
Here are a few Festivals of Light that happen around this time of year.
Diwali - India
Follows the Lunar Calendar and is celebrated at the end of October / early November
Diwali is India’s most important festival of the year—a time to celebrate the triumph of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil and the eradication of dark shadows, negativity, and doubts from our lives. It is a celebration of prosperity in which people give gifts to their loved ones. The festival also sends the message of illuminating our inner selves with clarity and positivity. During this festival, people clean their homes, decorate every corner with lights, lamps, flowers, and candles. You can learn more about this festival and ways to celebrate here.
Follows the Lunar Calendar and is celebrated in November / December
A festival celebrated by Jews worldwide, it is observed for a period of eight nights and days anywhere between the end of November and December. Hanukkah is also known as the Festival of Lights or the Feast of Dedication. This holiday celebrates the rededication of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem following the Maccabean revolt against the Syrian-Greek army. Each night, a candle is lit on the Menorah, which has nine candlesticks — one for each night of Hanukkah and an extra one to light the others. Other traditions include playing Dreidel, eating fried latkes, giving gifts and playing/singing Hanukkah music. You can learn more about this festival and ways to celebrate here.
December 26 - January 1
Kwanzaa was started in 1966 by Dr. Karenga to bring African Americans together as a community. Celebrations often include songs and dances, African drums, storytelling, poetry reading, and a traditional meal. Kwanzaa takes place over seven nights. On each of the seven nights, one of the candles on the Kinara (candleholder) is lit, and one of the seven principles is discussed. The principles, called the Nguzo Saba (seven principles in Swahili), are values of African culture which contribute to building and reinforcing community among African-Americans. You can read more about this festival including the seven principles here.
Chinese Lantern Festival
Celebrated on the 15th day of the first Chinese lunar month, the Lantern Festival traditionally marks the end of the Chinese New Year.
The Chinese Lantern Festival began over 2,000 years ago. The Lantern Festival is the first full moon night in the Chinese calendar, marking the return of spring and symbolizing the reunion of family. Traditional celebrations include enjoying lanterns, lantern riddles, eating tangyuan, a.k.a. yuan xiao (ball dumplings in soup), lion dances, dragon dances, etc. You can learn more about this festival and ways to celebrate here.
When learning about a new cultural or religious festival, genuine interest and wonder allow us to explore cultures other than our own with appreciation, reverence and honour. Through this open-hearted learning journey, we teach our children about the incredible diversity and similarities of our human experience.
Felted Artwork by Mimi Hirsch
The Meaning of Martinmas
Throughout the year, Waldorf schools celebrate festivals to connect with the cycle of nature, establish a yearly rhythm for the children, and strengthen the community. The Festival of Compassion (Martinmas) is celebrated around November 11, between Michaelmas' fiery out-breath and the winter holidays' deep in-breath. Universally, it honours St. Martin's story, patron saint of beggars and outcasts, who was known for his gentleness and his ability to bring warmth and light to those in need. He is best known for his act of kindness toward a poor beggar freezing outside in the cold. Martin used his sword to cut his cloak in two and gave one half to the beggar. This act of compassion, which gave the beggar warmth and hope, is why this festival is also called the Festival of Compassion. Waldorf Schools celebrate this festival by making lanterns with the children and gathering together for an evening Lantern Walk.
The essence of this festival is to acknowledge the light that shines forth from each of us. This light needs to be protected, just as the lights inside our lanterns do, so they don’t blow out.
Autumn is a time to reflect on our inner selves, to find the inner light that will carry us through this time of darkness. It can be an opportunity to know ourselves more deeply. Waldorf schools mark this season of inner searching with three fall festivals to help guide us on this introspection path. In September, the Festival of Courage (Michaelmas) and St. Michael urges us to battle with courage to face and conquer our “dragons”. In early November, there is the Festival of Compassion (Martinmas), where we observe St. Martin’s compassion for others. In December, St. Nicholas brings the gifts of wisdom, reflection, and review upon the year's events. These three figures model strength in the qualities of willing, feeling and thinking.
As we journey into the darkest time of the year, it is increasingly important for each of us to kindle warmth and light in our hearts. The gently glowing lanterns of Martinmas will give way to the candles of the Festival of Wisdom (Advent Spiral) as we draw nearer to the Solstice, showing how our inner light must shine ever brighter against the cold. As nature sleeps, we must be wakeful!
How can you bring this festival to your homeschooling family?
You Could Tell Stories
You could make some lanterns:
There are many ways to make lanterns, all of them fun and easy. The simplest way is to take a glass jar and, using some white glue mixed with a bit of water and a paint brush, glue bits of coloured tissue paper to the outside of the jar. You can glue at random or make pictures and shapes with the tissue paper, whatever works for your family and your children's age level. Adding a handle can be done in various ways, from pipe cleaners to flexible wire; you can even add beads to the handle.
If you have access to beeswax, another way to spend an afternoon with your children is to make a beeswax lantern. You can melt beeswax in a double boiler and dip an inflated balloon halfway into the wax. Let the first layer dry and then dip again and repeat. You can add leaves between layers as well. Once finished, carefully pop the balloon add some sand to the lantern's bottom, then place a tea-light on top of the sand to stop the candle from melting the bottom of your lantern.
There are many other ways to make lanterns. Get creative and have fun!
You could plan a lantern walk:
With your family and perhaps with some other families, you could plan to meet in a park or at some local trails in the early evening when the sun is just setting. With your lanterns lit, you can take a quiet meditative walk while singing some lantern songs.
Here are some lantern songs which are short and easy to learn.
These are meant to be sung 4-8 times over before switching to the next lantern song.
The Sunlight Fast is Dwindling
The sunlight fast is dwindling.
My little lamp needs kindling.
It’s beam shines far in darkest night,
Dear lantern guard me with your light.
Glimmer, Lantern, Glimmer
Glimmer lantern glimmer, little stars a-shimmer
Over meadow, moor and dale
Flitter-flutter, elfin veil
Pee-wit, pee-wit, tic a tic a tic, roo-coo, roo-coo
Glimmer lantern glimmer, little stars a-shimmer
Over rock and stock and stone
Wander tripping little gnome
Pee-wit, pee-wit, tic a tic a tic, roo-coo, roo-coo
I Go with My Bright Little Lantern
I go with my bright little lantern
My lantern is going with me
In heaven the stars are shining
On Earth shines my lantern with me
My light shines bright, through darkest night
La bimba, la bamba, la bim (repeat last 2 lines)
Bring Forth Your Light
Bring forth you gentle spark
Illuminate the dark
Those trembling in the night
Receive your shining light
You could donate to the Food Bank:
As this festival is about compassion, you could follow St. Martin's footsteps and make a donation to the food bank or think of some other way to bring warmth and hope to others.
In this time of turning inward, may you find your light shining brightly and remember that even the tiniest flame can dispel the darkness.
Explore schedules, rhythms & routines, songs, music, festivals, free play, meals, projects & more to support your homeschooling program.
The Wonder Squad