Last week I shared with you some thoughts on why it is worthwhile celebrating festivals as part of your homeschool year. Today I want to give you some practical tips to make it work for you in a meaningful way. And hopefully without any added stress to you. Because none of us need more of that in our lives!
Before I go any further, I just want to emphasise the point that you don’t need to be marking the traditional Waldorf festivals if they don’t hold significance for you. Celebrating should feel authentic and joyful. Please keep that in mind when you are planning your festivals for the year.
And I do recommend planning the festivals into your year when you do the rest of your school year planning. This way you can weave festival prep into your lesson planning so that it doesn’t become an additional burden on your time. It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you will make time because it is worth it. But when it’s mid-year and we are in the thick of things, adding something, anything, in to our rhythm can be tough. It’s much easier to plan things out at the start, even if it’s just a rough plan and blocking off a little time in your planner. Your 6 months in the future self will thank you for it.
I plan out my festivals in 6 steps. Having this process laid out for me makes it easy, and also prompts me to be mindful in my preparations. You may find as the years go along that you spend less time on each of the steps, particularly the first two, but they are still worth giving some thought each year come planning time.
Step One: Choose your festivals
Michaelmas, Martinmas, Santa Lucia, Advent, Candlemas…
It sounds an odd list to many of us. Maybe some of these really speak to you. Maybe they don’t. Likely you’ve never heard of them before, or perhaps only in context of the liturgical calendar. As homeschoolers, we can choose the festivals that feel important to us. Many families educating at home, especially those who don’t belong to a Waldorf co-op with traditions in place, seem to gravitate more towards celebrating the solstices and equinoxes as natural holidays.
Truly, it is up to you which of the holidays you celebrate in your own home. When you sit down to plan out the festivals, choose those that already have meaning for you, those that hold a strong appeal, or perhaps even those that fit in with what you are learning that year (another reason it pays to plan the festivals when you plan your blocks). It isn’t uncommon for non-Jewish families to mark the Jewish holidays to coincide with their third grade studies of the Old Testament, or to celebrate the feast days of saints during second grade. What is important is that the holidays you choose to celebrate hold some meaning for you. Your child will know if you aren’t being authentic.
To start off with, I recommend choosing a maximum of one celebration a season so as not to overwhelm yourself and your children. You may even prefer to choose one new festival a year to work into your rhythm. The concept of layering in works really well with festivals. Particularly if you are a family with a lot of other events throughout the year, you don’t want to add in too much too fast. Write down your festivals and their dates in your planner.
Now is a good time to write down birthdays and any cultural holidays you plan to celebrate (Christmas, Easter, etc) so that you can plan for those as well. If you are a religious family, make a note of any religious celebrations you will be observing too. Your year will be starting to look quite full now!
Step 2: Know why you are celebrating
Next, grab some blank paper, one page for each of the festivals you have chosen. Write the festival name at the top of your page. Write down the date. Write down which season your festival falls within. Then hit the books.
You want to find out the special significance of the events you have chosen, and perhaps a little of their history. Who celebrated this day and why? How do people celebrate now? Look for the inner meaning of the day, not just the current cultural associations. You may like to look to one of the books I mentioned in my last post for help in exploring and understanding each of the festivals.
Write down a few sentences on your page that explain what this festival is and what it means to you.
Now brainstorm your associations. Does this day have particular foods associated with it, or a colour? Spring festivals might make you think of flower crowns and may poles. A winter festival might make you think of soup, bread and lanterns. Michaelmas brings up images of dragons and swords. Make a note of everything that comes to mind, even if you don’t think it will be something you end up including.
Step Three: Plan Your Activities
Now that you have chosen a festival and really got a feel for it’s meaning and symbology, it’s time to organise the fun stuff. Activities!
Completing step 2 will make this one a breeze, but you may need (or want) to look a little further into your chosen festival until you find the activities that feel just right. It should make you feel excited. It should make you feel joyful. Above all it should feel authentic and meaningful.
I find it best to start with a food, a story, a song and a craft activity to do with my children. These are the touchstones. You can certainly add in more if you want to , but having these elements will give you a cohesive festival celebration without the overwhelm.
Make a note of these touchstones on your page. Write down the location of any particular recipe (cookbook and page, or a website) or make a note to find one. Do the same with your story or song. Jot down a list of resources to collect for your crafting.
Step Four: Involve your community
Nothing says celebration more than getting together with friends and family for food and fun. If you are lucky enough to be a part of a Waldorf community, you will be able to plan a group celebration with everyone on the same page. It’s a little more difficult when you are the only Steiner-inspired family in your area, but that doesn’t mean you have to miss out.
If you don’t have a community, go out and make one!
I really want to encourage you to ask family and friends to join in. If you have a homeschool group you regularly get together with, ask them if they would like to celebrate with you. Let them know what the festival is and what it means to you. You may be pleasantly surprised to find that while your friends aren’t following a Waldorf path, some of the festivals are important in their year too. You can organise an event and invite them along, or you could get together to brainstorm. Find what works in your situation and run with it.
Start with something simple and build on it over the years. Our winter solstice celebration was always a quiet family celebration at home. A few years ago a friend invited us to join in her family’s solstice morning ritual of heading to the beach for a sunrise breakfast. Over the years more families have joined and little rituals are naturally springing up. Not a single family (other than my own) is a ‘Waldorf’ family, but this is one of our most looked forward to events each year.
Don’t forget to include family in your community. Harvest festivals and festivals that encourage you to look inward can be perfect for smaller get togethers with your extended family. I find in these cases that it helps to centre the day around food. Most people are comfortable with this. We’ve had lovely autumn equinox celebrations that were simply inviting family over for a feast of traditional harvest foods. Yum!
Step Five: Develop your own rituals
There is one thing more than any other that I have found moves celebrating from just a day of fun to something meaningful that everyone looks forward to. The element of ritual. No matter how your festival celebrations grow and change over the years, it is helpful to keep a special moment the same every year.
Perhaps you bake the same bread every year for Michaelmas, or you always create a winter spiral from the wattle growing in your backyard. Maybe you could start a tradition of weaving daisy chain crowns every Spring festival day, or polishing your boots to leave out for St Nicholas each year.
In our home, my children always get their new winter coats as a gift at the Autumn Equinox. We always bake a cake to decorate together for the Winter Solstice. Summer Solstice to us means planting sunflower seeds. This year we will start crafting our Spring celebration, making sure we include a special moment to repeat year after year.
You can deliberately include a ritual element right from the start by giving it a little thought in advance. It’s also perfectly okay to let this element arise organically from you celebration. It can help to keep a record of your celebration, perhaps a journal entry, to help you find the moment and remember it for next year.
Step Six: Create Excitement
Having these little moments that happen every year will help your children learn to place the festival and begin to look forward to it. Remind them in the lead up of what you did last year. Remember that bonfire we had for Midsummer? Or the lanterns we made in winter? Children may not remember all the details, but they will remember the joy and begin to look forward to doing it all again.
Crafting together in the lead up helps to build excitement as well. Just like we hang Christmas decorations weeks ahead of the main event, decorating the home together with the symbols of the upcoming holiday will get everyone in a celebratory mood. These don’t need to be expensive or elaborate, in fact the simpler the better. Try to come up with ideas that even the littlest can join in on.
Likewise, talking about all of the lovely things you will do, and the yummy things you will eat, will soon have the kids excitedly looking forward to the day coming up. Even if they have never marked a particular holiday before, if you seem excited about it, they will be too.
Above all, remember the day should feel fun and authentic. And please don’t stress about trying to replicate the festivals you see on Instagram and Pinterest. Elaborate does not equal better.
Which festivals would you like to include in the coming year?