I’m a Waldorf teacher. I’m not teaching now because I am a SAHM but Waldorf education continues to be a really big part of my life. One of my very favorite parts of Waldorf is the festival life. There are festivals year round and they are all wonderful.
We are just embarking on the festival of Advent which lasts for four weeks. Advent is a countdown to Christmas, yes, but it is about a lot of things. It honors the minerals, plants, animals and human worlds. It is a quiet time of inner reflection while observing the changes in the outer world. It celebrates going from the darkness of winter into the light and celebrates that even during the depths of winter, there is still much inner life for the earth and for us.
Many schools and communities hold an Advent spiral during this time of year. The Advent spiral can be the most meaningful thing you do during this time of year. It can also be a fiasco. Can I tell you about my first grade Advent spiral?
My first grade class was in a bit of turmoil back in 2008. We were about to say goodbye to two members of the class for various reasons and in general things were chaotic. I was also a complete Advent spiral rookie. I’d been involved in a large scale spiral before but I wasn’t in charge of considering logistics. I sent out an email that indicated we’d be walking around among candles and perhaps short, simple dresses would be best for the girls. Soft, quiet shoes would be better than loud clacky shoes. I casually explained what we’d be doing to the children and I left it at that. On the evening of the spiral, I sat in perfect horror while the dear sweet children clacked (in the 25 noisiest pairs of shoes ever produced) through the beautiful spiral. I nearly fainted when a girl wearing a giant, floor length tulle dress almost caught on fire. After the spiral, I went home and drank a bottle of wine. This is how NOT to celebrate Advent. This is the OPPOSITE of the mood you should be trying to achieve.
While celebrating Advent in your own home will probably not be as exciting, it was a good lesson in preparation and achieving the mood. Intention is important! If you are trying to have a short little advent celebration every evening (or morning, or whenever), it will help to get your family into as quiet and contemplative of a mood as you can. This means you don’t have a dance party to Brenda Lee songs right before you sit down and say a quiet verse and sing a song. It helps if you, as the Advent celebration conductor, can get into a really quiet place. Generally, your children will soak up that mood. We won’t be doing a spiral but the mood is the same. Remember the part when Mary took those things and pondered them in her heart? Well that’s what we are trying to do here.
How will we celebrate?
My children are too small to understand but you are never too young to enter into the spirit. Babies are already in touch with the spiritual all the time and toddlers are easily able to be reverent and filled with awe if you can get them to stop screaming bloody murder long enough.
I created our own Advent calendar because the chocolate filled ones would start a riot here. I cut out stars, wrote a verse on the back of each one and attached them all to a ribbon. I hung the ribbon over a doorframe. Not only is it totally adorbs but it is cuter than a Backyardigans advent calendar. I’m not even sure who the Backyardigans are really.
Every night until Christmas, we will light a candle on our Advent wreath and say the verse of the week. There are four candles. One is for the mineral kingdom, one for the plant kingdom, one for the animal kingdom and one for humankind. The verses are usually attributed to Rudolf Steiner but I’ve heard there is some debate on that. We will start with the first verse this week and then add a verse each week until we are saying all four. We will only light one candle this week. Next week, we will light two and so on.
The first light of advent is the light of the stones. Stones that live in crystals, seashells and bones.
The second light of advent is the light of the plants. Roots, stem, leaf, flower and fruit by whom we live and grow.
The third light of advent is the light of beasts. Animals of farm, field, forest, air and sea. All await the birth in the greatest and in the least.
The fourth light of advent is the light of humankind. The light of love, the light of thought, to give and to understand.
After the candles, we will take a star from the awesome, homemade Advent calendar and read the verse or poem on the back. Could it be verse overkill? It could. But I like to torture my family. I will then force everyone to sing a song. One of my favorites is “In the Bleak Midwinter.” Keep it simple.
Why do we do this? We do it because this time of year is crazy. We run from one activity to another without ever once feeling the sacredness of the season. Judaism, Christianity, and Solstice all have one thing in common during their winter festivals and that is the LIGHT. We can all hold a still, small light inside of us that carries us through the hurriedness of the season and more importantly, the darkness of winter.
I don’t want my children to feel that advent is a countdown to Santa. It’s not. I don’t want them to think it is about rushing from one party to the next. This is my antidote to all the shopping and rushing. I also want them to have a sense of tradition and reverence. I remember celebrating Advent by the Christmas tree with Christmas books and a little music. That is a much nicer memory than the fluorescent lights in Target. But don’t get me wrong, I freakin’ love Target.
It is so easy to start traditions with our families. It might seem silly and pointless when the children are too little to remember but I’ll do it as much for me as for them.