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Celebrating Michaelmas

What is Michaelmas?

Michaelmas (pronounced MI-kel-miss) was originally a Christian festival in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. It is the feast day of the archangel St. Michael, and is celebrated on the 29th of September each year.

Michael is an archangel in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, but his festival is one that can observed by people of all faiths and spiritual paths.

Michaelmas falls near the autumn equinox, marking the quickly darkening days in the northern hemisphere. It comes at a time when the weather is rapidly changing and the days are noticeably shorter, and we have a natural instinct to prepare for the colder months ahead.

It marks the end of the harvest and the time to begin to put away food for the winter. It is a time of apple picking and cider making, a time to make warm soup and gather round the hearth. It is the time to put our summer clothes away, and pull out our sweaters, hats, and mittens.

Michaelmas marks the season when we feel the impulse to turn inward after the long, warm days of summer, and gather up strength and fortitude to face the colder days and long nights of the winter ahead.

Celebrating Michaelmas at a Waldorf School

Michaelmas is typically the first festival of the new school year celebrated in Waldorf schools. The festival usually includes a harvest theme with food such as apple cider, fresh baked bread, and pumpkin muffins, as well as games and activities of courage. The grade school children will usually perform a play of St. George taming a fiery dragon with the spiritual help of the archangel, St. Michael, who gives him courage.

Photo by A Mountain Hearth

Photo by A Mountain Hearth

Taming the Dragon

St. George, the patron saint of England, is the human manifestation of St. Michael on earth and their stories are closely related.

The story of St. George taming the dragon symbolizes the inner courage it takes to face our human challenges. As the days grow colder and the nights grow longer, we must find and bring forth our own inner light when the sun, warmth and growth of the earth are fading.

St. Michael, who gave courage to St. George, gives us courage to uphold what is right and true, and the strength to face the challenges that lie ahead. The story speaks to children in a deeply symbolic way, feeding their innate need for truth and justice.

“Michaelmas is a great time to ponder our own inner dragons and to cultivate the courage and strength necessary for self development.” – from Waldorf Publications newsletter

St. Michael and the Dragon

Celebrating Michaelmas at Home

If you are not part of a Waldorf community, here are some ideas for observing the festival and the season at home:

  • Create a Seasonal Nature Table depicting St. George and the Dragon. You could display autumn leaves, small pumpkins and gourds to represent the harvest. Or you could display the Black Knight with Red Horse, Dragon, Cave, and Large Angel wooden figures from Ostheimer of Germany. Orange and red play silks can represent the colors of fall and the courage of St. Michael.
  • Tell stories about St. Michael or St. George. One of my favorites is from the beautifully illustrated picture book St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges.
  • Read “The Most Beautiful Dragon in the Whole World” from Reg Down’s charming collection of autumn stories, The Festival of Stones.
  • Do fun outdoor activities that require strength, courage and bravery: take a hike, have a tug-of-war with friends and family, have a scavenger hunt for “dragon eggs” (these can be small gourds spray painted gold).
  • Make a dragon candle for Michaelmas. Instructions can be found in the book All Year Round.

Of course, preparation is as important a part of a festival as the day itself. And Michaelmas is the beginning of the fall season. These activities can be extended and enjoyed throughout the month of October.

As adults, we can use this time to focus on our own inner work and spiritual growth. Take time for meditation and journal writing, and think about the areas in which you would like to grow.

Wishing you strength and courage this Michaelmas season, and may all your dragons be tamed!

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Have you celebrated Michaelmas at a school or at home? Are you inspired to begin a new tradition? How do you prepare for the coming season? As always, your comments are always welcome!

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5 Comments

  • Reply Jennifer September 25, 2017 at 1:08 pm

    I’ve seen mention of St. Michaelmas before, but never really understood what it was about or how to ‘celebrate’ it at home (or why I would wish to). Often people mention it in passing but gloss over its relevance to the past or to the present. I love how you explain how the festival was celebrated in the past, at Waldorf schools today, how it could be celebrated at home, and even how adults could benefit from its observance. Thank you, Sarah!

  • Reply Erica September 25, 2017 at 2:00 pm

    Hi, Sarah. I really enjoyed your post about Michaelmas. We are going to add Michaelmas into our family traditions for the first time this year! I have wide age range — 1 year to 12 years — among my children, and I appreciate that your ideas work across the board. Thank you!

    • Reply Sarah Baldwin October 2, 2017 at 10:33 am

      Love hearing that, Erica! Did you celebrate Michaelmas? How did it go? I’d love to hear!

  • Reply Cara September 29, 2017 at 2:34 pm

    Thanks so much for this advice! We’re attempting a Waldorf-style homeschool with my 2.5- and 4.5-year-olds, and we have something of a co-op on Fridays (which we celebrate as “Friend-Day” every week :-) ). I was so excited that this traditional Waldorf festival fell on “Friend-Day” this year and wanted to find the right simple things to do for 5 kids from 2 – 5. I didn’t really have any time to prepare, so I was worried it wouldn’t be a “good enough” festival–but we all had a great time! We made the bread from All Year Round–it worked out great having another mom to read the story since I didn’t have time to memorize it; hunted for dragon eggs (nice big oranges, which became snack while we waited for the bread); and told the story of St. George and the Dragon with figures (which I didn’t realize before reading here was exactly the story we needed! My girls fell in love with the story at the library last year so I got the figures to tell it “full Waldorf” style :-) ). Happy Michaelmas!

    • Reply Sarah Baldwin October 2, 2017 at 10:32 am

      Thanks for your comment, Cara! Knowing that my blog post resulted in even one family celebrating Michaelmas has made my day! It sounds like you had a lovely celebration. May you have many more in the years ahead. Happy Michaelmas!

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