Waldorf is full of beautiful traditions and festivals. Some of them are well-known and well-loved by many. But others may be new and a little strange to some of us. For me, Advent has always fallen firmly in the second camp, so I’ve never bothered with it much. Until now!
This year I am upping my Advent game.
If you’ve heard of Advent you may associate it with Christmas countdown calendars full of hidden chocolates. Or with weeks of festivities in the lead up to Christmas Day. It’s a time of Christmas movies and carols, of shopping and decorating, of parties and Christmas concerts. In my home it has always been a time of near fevered baking.
If you happen to be Christian you may view Advent as an important religious season celebrating the coming of Christ. Advent is the beginning of the liturgical year and begins on the 4th Sunday before Christmas. Given the diversity of beliefs of our readers here, I won’t presume to talk more about the religious aspects of Advent but instead encourage you to speak to someone knowledgeable from your faith.
For Waldorf inspired families, Advent is often celebrated even when the family is not Christian. Advent can be a wonderful way to slow down and enjoy this time of the year, a way to distance ourselves from the frenetic consumerism that marks the modern Christmas season. Slow and simple are the words that come to mind when I think of celebrating the Advent season in a Steiner inspired home.
Which is all well and good, but what is the meaning of Advent if we aren’t religious? Or we are religious but not of the Christian variety?
Well the word advent itself means ‘coming’. You may prefer to view Advent as the coming of the solstice, rather than the coming of Christ. Maybe you just want to view it as the coming of a new year and a fresh start? A rebirth of sorts.
And you wouldn’t be wrong in doing so.
In Waldorf, Advent is often described as a celebration of the coming of light. Which makes sense when you think that for most it falls in the lead up to the Winter Solstice. But what about us in the Southern Hemisphere?
South of the equator we aren’t approaching the Winter Solstice. Instead we are heading in to summer.
Instead of celebrating the coming of the light in the dark of winter, we can celebrate it in all its glory right now. The sun is reaching its zenith and we can be outside enjoying the sunshine.
Embracing the sun and the light rather than searching for it.
Which seems opposite to the inwardness of Advent in the Northern Hemisphere, but we can look at it as a conscious balancing of the outwardly busy summer. Celebrating Advent helps us find the calm and contemplation in a frantic December.
And all of this can be as Christian or as pagan or as new-agey as you like. Or not. It’s up to you.
Can you see why I found this particular festival so confusing for so long?
Now let’s get one thing straight. You do not have to celebrate Advent to call yourself a Waldorf inspired family. You don’t have to celebrate any of the festivals that don’t resonate with you.
Festivals should be meaningful to the family celebrating or they become pointless. If this festival doesn’t gel with your particular beliefs, leave it off the calendar. If it’s one you’re just not sure about, why not try reading a little more about it or just adding in one of two small activities and see if they feel right to you.
If they do feel right, great! Try building on what you have done until you craft a set of family traditions that suits your family. And if they don’t feel right? Well that’s just fine too. There are plenty of other special days throughout the year that you can celebrate with your family.
Remember why we celebrate these festivals in the first place and you will find peace in your decision to celebrate or not.
Waldorf enjoys many of the traditional Advent festivities but has some of its own too. You can use any or all of these that you like. Feel free to alter them in a way that suits you. Or you can craft something of your own!
The Nature Table come Nativity Scene is exactly what it sounds like, a blending of the typical Waldorf nature table and a nativity scene. In Waldorf, each of the four weeks of Advent is associated with a different kingdom. Week One corresponds to rocks and minerals, Week Two to plants, Week Three to animals and Week Four to humans. Each week you add a new element to your table so that it builds as Christmas approaches.
First add your shells, crystals and beautiful stones. The next week your greenery appears, often in the form of an Advent wreath or a bough of holly. In the third week animals from the nativity may appear in the form of needle felted toys or wooden figurines. Finally, in the fourth week, the central figures of shepherds, wisemen, Mary and Joseph appear with the infant Jesus often not added until Christmas Eve.
Of course if you don’t wish to include the nativity, you could build your nature table over the course of Advent and add any animals and human figures you choose. There is a beautiful example of and Advent Table on Sure As The World that will help you along.
The Advent Stick is the Waldorf version of an Advent calendar, sans chocolate. Small items are wrapped in coloured silk or paper and joined together. Each day one package is opened. It may have a homemade gift, a little note with an activity to do together that day, or a small item from nature to add to your Advent Table.
Kelly at Happy Whimsical Hearts has a beautiful example of an Advent Stick featured on her blog. Of course there is a terribly tricky way to fashion these sticks. You will see what I mean when you go over for a look. So far, this is not a tradition we have tried in our home but it is a very popular choice here in Australia. You can normally find the sticks for sale in Steiner BSS groups, ready made for you.
The Advent Spiral is a tradition from the Steiner-Waldorf schools that lends itself nicely to a whole family celebration or a special event for your homeschool co-op. This tradition is normally reserved for children in kindergarten and the early grades, but celebrating at home gives you the luxury of continuing to walk the spiral for as many years as it feels right to you.
Carrie at The Parenting Passageway has wonderfully detailed instructions on how to create and use the spiral. I thoroughly recommend taking a look (and if you’re anything like me you will get stuck reading her amazing blog for hours! You have been forewarned). The spiral is a large scale spiral of greenery laid out on the ground. The children travel through the spiral to the centre to light their candle and then walk the spiral out again. It’s absolutely magical.
Some homeschoolers in my part of the world opt to keep this tradition as a winter festival and create Winter Spirals instead of Advent spirals. You can see an example of a winter spiral here on Instagram. This one was made by my favourite Waldorf instagrammer, Heidi. Seriously, I want her to be my homeschool mum!
The Advent Wreath is the most basic of the suggestions here, but it is beautiful in its simplicity. The wreath is simply that, a wreath of greenery sat on the table. It contains four candles, one to light each week. You can add a decorations to correspond to each of the weeks if you like. Or not. I particularly love this tradition because it is so minimal. You can find a lovely example of an advent wreath and how one family uses theirs in this post.
Celebrations in our home will be kept quiet and simple this year. We will make and use a wreath, bake way too much, and make homemade gifts for family and friends throughout the month. I’m also planning to use these lovely Advent activity cards from Zuzu and Me.
How are you planning to celebrate in your home?