Thoughts on Advent from years gone by
One of the most important aspects of a Waldorf education is the celebration of festivals. In our modern, urban lives, it becomes perhaps even more important to highlight nature’s key transitional points as ways of reminding us that, in spite of how it may seem, we are not separate from nature. In addition to helping to keep this knowledge intact within our children, the celebration of festivals helps to establish a yearly rhythm of celebration and anticipation for them and is connected with the building of community. The festivals help to nourish our souls through the sharing of beautiful stories, lovingly prepared food, joyous songs and engaging activities.
The Advent festival that we celebrate in Waldorf schools invites us to be vulnerable to our longing for meaning and open to our hope for the manifestation of the highest ideals that we carry in the depths of our hearts. As we proceed through the four week festival, we are acutely aware that longer periods of darkness are descending on us, virtually every day. This darkness stirs our yearning for light – sunlight, as well as Spiritual Light, and then, at the darkest time of year, a miracle happens – “new light is born.”
Although originating in pre-Christian traditions, the symbolism used in our Advent festival is developed from Christianity. The essence is universal and is expressed in various ways through various traditions. Speciﬁcally, the Latin word, “adventus” means, “coming.” What is it that is coming, and how do we prepare for it? We can get clues by considering how we approached the birth of our own children. During the period of gestation, we anticipated the joy and wonder of bringing a new child into the world. We prepared for the event with tremendous care, devotion and tenderness, along with touches of nervousness. From the darkness of the womb, a baby emerged into the light of the world, bringing his or her light into our lives, with the potential to have a powerful, “light-ﬁlled” impact on the world. In the Christian tradition, Advent and Christmas include all of that, in commemoration of the birth of Christ, as the new light, the new hope, the new way of being for humanity, and Advent provides us with the opportunity to become in touch with all that is implied in this.
Advent in Grade One
Grade One has spent the ﬁrst months of the school year coming together as a class. This has been a powerful process which has enabled the class to begin the forming of a unity, of a class group feeling. As Advent approaches, the time of turning inward, the class will be proceeding into this time in a two-way process. On the one hand, we will be turning inward, singing Advent songs as the classroom weekly becomes brighter and brighter as the Christmas festival approaches. On the other hand, we will also be going out into the school community. We will be embarking on the path of joining our fellow students by taking part in the weekly assemblies that the Grade School has each Monday. During Advent, these assemblies take on a special character for the whole Grade School and it is this special time where the Grade One class will join its fellow students to move towards Christmas and then establish itself as a regular aendee of the Monday morning assemblies.
Thoughts on Advent in the Middle School
Advent is always a special time in my classroom. Ever since Grade One the children enter into a candle lit classroom every morning through December. The mood is quiet and magical. Sometimes the snow is falling; usually it is quite dark. We then begin the morning singing Christmas carols. We have our favourites, some are silly, most are reverent. At the moment that the lights turn on and we begin the “work” of the day, there is usually a sign of disappointment and someone will say, “do we have to put the lights on?” We all feel safe in the darkness.
For me there is no mistake about the fact that Advent is the beginning of the word adventure. In this dark, cold time of year, when it seems there is no life around us, that nature has forsaken us, we also feel this anticipation of something exciting to come. Certainly, Mary and Joseph were on an adventure. Certainly many of us have experienced the adventure of moving on. There is trepidation too, but adventure all the same. So in Grade Eight, we will be thinking about the adventure to come as we spend our last Advent together. The assemblies, the Advent lunches, the singing, the candles – all of these things will form the memories of our time together and sustain us in our future adventures.
Advent in the High School
This year, milestones such as the return to Standard Time and the success of the Christmas Fair have prepared me for this season of Advent. How early it is in the day for the dark to take over. How joyous it is to be with friends working on a common endeavour such as the Christmas Fair.
In the High School, these two experiences come together in our celebration of Advent. Every day the whole High School gathers in the darkened hall. We circle around a wreath with four candles. After the High School verse, a hush comes over the gatherers, and we wait for some random person to step forward who has a wish. The wish can be quite mundane, like the ever prevalent wish for snow, or it can be quite serious, such as asking for the group to send good thoughts to someone who is ill.
Whoever is moved to come forward with a wish speaks the wish and then lights a candle. There is a pause as we take in this newly added light to the darkening season. Then we get out our songbooks and sing some carols that have been requested. The carols range from the popular to the traditional. After some hearty singing, we carry on with our classes and day, having come together in fellowship.
We do this daily and only at this time of year. It is a recognition of the unique quality the waning light casts on us all and the comfort we get from doing something consciously together.
Student Advent Memories
Charlotte King-Fertey (gr10 2011)
Through my years in my Waldorf education I have had the chance to be a part of several variations of Christmas festivals.
I remember the big all-school assemblies at the Toronto Waldorf School where we would sing, “People Look East.” Grades One to Twelve were there, everyone from the Steiner Centre came, people from the Hesperus Community were there and lots of parents and other community members, too.
I remember, at the Nelson Waldorf School, St. Nicholas coming to each of our classrooms with his helper “Rupert.” He read to us from his golden book, leaving us gifts of tangerines and cookies. One year, I thought that “Rupert” had a very striking resemblance to my oldest brother, Ma!
The Nelson Waldorf School is a former ski lodge and so there is deep, ﬂuﬀy white snow covering everything. It makes all the Christmas festivals so magical!
I remember the light of Santa Lucia, with her beautiful white dress and a crown of candles on her head. It was enchanting!
I remember walking the advent spiral and being nervous about lighting my hair on ﬁre, but how satisfying it was to see a beautiful spiral of light!