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Ostheimer St. Martin, Horse and Beggar
Archives, Family, Festivals, Sunday With Sarah, Waldorf Education

The Festival of Martinmas

Martinmas, or the festival of St. Martin, is celebrated around November 11 in Waldorf schools with a nighttime lantern walk–often with songs followed by autumn treats.

Like Halloween, Martinmas is rooted in Christian ritual but is now more of a cultural event, anticipated by children in many European countries. The essence of the holiday—marking the end of the fall harvest and the advent of snowy weather—reminds us that through all of life’s outward changes we maintain within us the warm light of our spirit.

Martinmas dates back to the Middle Ages and the veneration of St. Martin, a 4th-century bishop who founded an abbey in Tours, France. Martin was a Roman horse soldier who converted to Christianity; according to legend, one wintry day he encountered a shivering beggar and cut his cloak in half to give the poor man warmth. That night, Martin had a vision of Jesus wearing Martin’s divided red cloak. Martin is now the patron saint of tailors, as well as that of France.

Traditionally, Martinmas coincided with the many busy activities around farms in late fall. Any remaining late crops in the fields, such as winter squash, would be harvested before the deep snow falls; it was also the time to plant winter wheat, which came up in early spring and provided flour for the new year.

The bounty of the late harvest, fresh wine, and the slaughter of animals naturally suggested a feast day. As such, Martinmas was a precursor to the American holiday of Thanksgiving, and is still marked in Europe with sumptuous meals, often of roast goose. In Germany, suckling pig is prepared in the town square.

Centuries ago, bishops in some European countries ordered fasting for several days a week from Martinmas to Epiphany—a period of 56 days. Among the more unusual Martinmas traditions no longer observed was the invocation in Ireland that no wheel shall turn on the feast day—in respect for the fact that Martin was killed by being tossed into a mill stream and crushed under the paddlewheel.

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Today in many European countries, the Martinmas festival culminates in a lantern walk at night, followed by a bonfire and songs. Traditionally the lanterns were carved out of newly harvested squash gourds, and illuminated with a candle—the origin of our jack-o-lantern—but can also be made of paper or jars. The lanterns and the bonfire symbolize light in the darkness of winter, and give hope to the poor through the good deeds of St. Martin.

In America the holiday is not commonly observed, although the city of St. Paul, Minnesota has a public Martinmas lantern parade around Rice Park. The tradition of Martinmas has been maintained in the New World primarily by Waldorf schools.

From a child’s point of view, the best part of Martinmas may be the sweet treats at the end of a lantern walk. In some countries, children go from house to house with their lanterns, “begging” for treats—certainly the origin of our modern Halloween ritual.

If you are not part of a Waldorf school community (or don’t live in St. Paul), you may wish to organize your own family Lantern Walk with friends and neighbors. The books All Year Round and Crafts Through the Year have instructions for making different types of lanterns. The Autumn volume from the Wynstones collection of seasonal books has a number of lantern songs that can be softly sung on your quiet procession.

Last, but not least, don’t forget to have some treats ready when you come inside to get warm after your walk, like hot cider, ginger cookies and apples.

May the generous spirit of St. Martin be with you through the season!

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Have you celebrated the season with a lantern walk–either at school or at home? If not, are you inspired to try one? Please share your thoughts and experiences!

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Archives, bella luna toys, Childhood, Education, Family, Parenting, Storytelling, Sunday With Sarah, Waldorf Books, Waldorf Education

Storytelling from the Heart

Sarah Baldwin, Waldorf educator and owner of Bella Luna Toys, explains the importance of storytelling for children and gives parents ideas on how to make up their own stories, and tell stories “by heart” in this “Sunday with Sarah” video.

TRANSCRIPTION:

Hi, I’m Sarah Baldwin. I’m a Waldorf teacher, an author, the mother of two Waldorf graduates. I’m the owner of Bella Luna Toys, and I’m also a storyteller.

And guess what. So are you!

Today on “Sunday With Sarah” I’m going to talk to you about storytelling and why I think it’s so important to TELL children stories–from memory or from the heart, or stories that you make up–as opposed to just reading them from a book.

Now books are great. We sell a lot of picture books and chapter books at Bella Luna Toys. I don’t want to discourage you from ever reading to your child or encouraging your child to read, but when we can take the time to TELL a child a story–eye-to-eye and heart-to-heart–there is no greater gift. Children love it!

Now you may think “I’m not creative, I don’t have any ideas. How do I possibly make up a story?” Well, it’s not that hard, and the more you start exercising that storytelling muscle, the easier it becomes.

The easiest way to get started, I think, is to just start telling your child stories of when you were a little girl or you were a little boy. Children LOVE to hear stories about their parents when they were little, and remembering the adventures they had or the trouble they got into!

You can also tell a story reviewing the child’s day. Now, reviewing the day before sleep, in bed, is a wonderful, relaxing way for children to let go of the day and drift off to sleep.

And you can disguise the child. You can change his or her name, or it could be a story about “Squirrel Nutkin” or another little animal, but then use the events that child’s day to help them review the day and soon they’ll begin to recognize themselves in the story. “Oh, that’s what I did today!” and they’ll get really excited to hear a story about themselves.

For instance: “Squirrel Nutkin woke up early one morning and his mother had made him a bowl of oatmeal. And after they ate their oatmeal, they washed the dishes together and took a walk to the park…” and so on, reviewing what the child had to eat that day, who they saw, what activities they did.

So, if you need more ideas, one of my favorite books, and we offer it at Bella Luna Toys, is called Storytelling with Children, written by Nancy Mellon. Nancy is a master storyteller who has taught teachers and given workshops, and it’s full of great ideas.

And stories don’t have to just be told. They can also be told as a puppet play with little figures. Nancy gives lots of ideas in this wonderful book.

So I really encourage you to start, if you don’t already, making up stories. You can also memorize a story, like a fairy tale, and try telling it by heart. I like saying “telling it by heart” rather that “memorizing.” It just is warmer.

A fairy tale you know well, like “Goldilocks and the Three Bears” or “Little Red Riding Hood.” You know what happens in the story! Tell it in your own words and when your child makes that eye contact with you and has that heart-to-heart connection, they will just warm right up, and you’ll enjoy it, too.

So, leave a comment! Let me know if storytelling something you do regularly. If not, and you decide to give it a try, let me know how it goes. Let me know if you have any questions. Happy storytelling! See you next time.

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Book referenced in video: Storytelling with Children by Nancy Mellon

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Archives, Family, Natural Toys, Play, Waldorf Toys, Wooden Toys

Indoor Play: Ideas for Keeping Kids Active and Screen-Free During Winter

Now that the holidays are behind us, in many parts of the country long winter months still loom ahead with bitterly cold days when kids are home from school,  spending less time playing outside.

On such days, it can be difficult to keep their children away from the TV or off electronic devices, which can lead kids to be inactive and unstimulated for long periods of time.

To minimize the stress that can ensue from unplanned “snow days” or days when it’s too cold to play outside, here are a few ideas for keeping children screen-free and active indoors:

1. Keep a variety of board games that appeal to different age groups: not too advanced for younger players, yet challenging enough for older children. Play a different game each day to prevent boredom.

2. Encourage children to build a fort or tent using furniture and playsilks or cotton play cloths. Children love creating their own cozy play spaces, in which to read or play with dolls and stuffed animals.

3. Encourage dress-up play by providing a basket of dress-ups and costumes and invite children put on a play for you and an audience, even if the audience consists of their stuffed animals!

4. Traditional games like hide-and-seek can be played indoors; or hide a little gnome or fairy doll and have children try to find it.

5. Keep children engaged by introducing a new craft kit such as knitting (e.g. Quick-to-Knit Scarf Kit), origami, or baking a new cookie recipe.

6. Keep a box of art supplies that only comes out on special days. Your box could include a variety of different kinds of paper for making collages, glue sticks, glitter, crayons, watercolor paints, markers, and so on. Keeping the box neat and organized will encourage a child’s creativity!

7. Don’t keep all of a child’s toys out all the time. Most children have too many toys. Bringing out certain toys—like wooden building blocks or Lego bricks–only on rainy or snowy days make it a special occasion.

8. Here are some of my favorite toys that encourage indoor movement across different age groups:

Happy Winter Play!

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What are some of your family’s favorite indoor activities? Share your ideas by leaving a comment below!

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