Creating a Festival

Here is a post I recently wrote on our discussion forum (and though I’m not there as much as I used to be, I still pop in from time to time !) Though the following refers specifically to someone’s question about Martinmas (11November), the essence can be applied to any festival where the mood is one of solemn reverence. A May Day festival, for instance, with dancing round the May pole and jolly shenanigans, would require  quite a different mood of soul – though parents answering their cell phones or getting distracted would still be counter to what one is trying to achieve. By paying close attention to the mood one is trying to create during a festival (or, on a smaller scale, while telling or reading a story to a child for instance), one helps a child find parity between her inner religious/spiritual feelings, and what she experiences in the outer world. Not only does this then underline her in-born sense of reverence and awe, but it also helps bring flexibility to her soul. If one goes through life with a trivial and half-hearted attitude toward what should be regarded with profound respect, then one does not exercise the full spectrum of the soul’s feeling capacity. One’s soul could be said to be atrophied and one might then tend toward an indifferent or shallow relationship to the richness of life. If you go to our Articles section on our website, you will find an article called Working with the Spiritual Basis of Waldorf Education which explores this. Those of you who do not celebrate the Christian festivals can take the essence of what this article says and translate it to your own spiritual tradition.
Likewise, the following comments do not only apply to the European-based Waldorf traditions, but to the celebration of any festival, anywhere in the world.
Please refer to the Festivals section of my blog for further thoughts on festivals. Here is the link that will take you to the index of my blog articles.

As always with festivals, the most important part is mood – what is a festival if not a sacred celebration, so if people – adults or children – are mucking about being silly, chattering, answering cell phones or whatever it will absolutely spoil the mood. So I would say your first priority is to ensure that this is 100% understood and embraced by the adults – and do be clear and specific – people have their own ideas about what quiet is – not all of which I personally would agree with!

And if you can get the whole group (adults that is) to embrace this, then you have passed your first test of truly being able to create a Waldorf-inspired co-op! If parents don’t “get” this part, they are going to have a really hard time “getting” Waldorf.

To enhance mood, less is definitely more. I would only do 2 songs – over and over again as you walk through wherever it is that you are walking. Again – it is the mood you are trying to emphasize – and lots of songs detracts from that. The simple rhythms and words will penetrate the children deeply. If there is too much, it will wash right over them. And…by doing this you are putting into action an incredibly important lesson for parents – that LESS IS MORE!! You want healthy early Waldorf education and parenting? Then bring on repetition, simplicity, reverence and mood of soul.

Then the story – as always think it through. Where are you going and what happens when you get there? Maybe everyone stands in a circle in the darkened woods – have them put down their lanterns. Think through what happens when – inevitably – someone’s lantern blows out. Maybe make sure each parent has a set of extra long matches – you don’t want one of the children to start crying because their lantern is out. An even better solution is if the person facilitating the festival (and every festival or gathering must have a facilitator to bring ego-presence to the gathering and to hold and carry it) can carry a special light which she then uses – in silence – to re-light any lanterns that go out.

Less is more, mood, simplicity. A simple story – it needs to be the story of St Martin if you’re doing a Martinmas festival – stands to reason. Just tell the story and then everyone can again start to quietly sing and leave – have a place to where they walk to before going to their cars. In other words, again, think it through. You don’t want to finish the story and then suddenly some children rush off to play. It should be an entity – endings are as important as beginnings. be conscious – don’t let it either fade away or explode at the end. Gather in a circle again perhaps, whisper a quiet good night, put out lanterns – perhaps going around the circle in turn – in silence – pause, stand in the darkness and feel it. Maybe look up at the starts in a quiet moment of reverence. The quietly everyone goes home.

Parents need to understand that for their children to truly experience the sacredness of a true festival, then the mood must be sustained and preserved. Whispering as they get into their cars would be great – and if each family thinks how they can take some of the specialness of the festival home with them – continuing to whisper perhaps at home as they prepare for bed – or a special Martinmas supper, that would be wonderful.

This is important – if it’s just because “this is a nice Waldorf thing” then there is no truth in it. But if this is a real festival which hopes to touch on the spiritual truths expressed by its celebration, then this is something one wants to share with ones children. This is something for the parents to contemplate deeply as they prepare themselves inwardly for this festival – and the better prepared and inwardly coherent the adults are, the better it will be for the children, who will be truly blessed to share something so rare in our society.

Posted on October 10, 2009 in Seasons and Festivals

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