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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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Childhood, Festivals, Parenting, Sunday With Sarah, Waldorf Education

Celebrating Festivals With Children

Festivals and celebrations are important for children and nourishing to family life.

Seasonal celebrations help children mark the passage of time and experience the rhythm of the year. Further, celebrating festivals connect us with community and bring deeper meaning to our lives.

This week on “Sunday with Sarah,” I share my thoughts on the importance of festivals for children.

What festivals, holidays, and celebrations does your family observe? Are there festivals that you celebrate with a larger community? Which are your favorites? Please share your thoughts here!

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Festivals, Holidays, Inspiration, Sunday With Sarah

Finding Light Beyond the Glitter

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TRANSCRIPT:

Welcome back to Sunday with Sarah! It’s really nice to be with you again.

This has really become a highlight of my week — to just sit down, and connect with you, and share my thoughts.

It’s been a really busy week for me, and I bet it has been for you, too! It’s pretty hard to avoid this time of year, even if you don’t own a toy business. There are just so many events competing for our attention this time of year, it can become so stressful. With the commercialization of the holidays, it’s become just an orgy of buying and spending and parties and overeating.

I woke up this morning thinking about the word “holidays”, and what’s that’s come to suggest in this day and age, and remembering the root of the word: “holy days.” Holy days. So how do we find time, how do carve out time during this crazy time of year, to find what my friend Lynn Jericho calls “Inner Christmas?” (She’s got a great website I invite you to check out at InnerChristmas.com.)

And how do we do that with children? How do we help them connect with the true meaning of this season?

I was grateful this week to my dear friend, Marcia Kimpton, another Waldorf early childhood teacher, who sent me a list that her former assistant created. It’s a list of activities she does with her children during the Advent season — one that can be performed each day during the weeks leading up to Christmas.

That list included things like:

  • Bake Cookies
  • Make a Paper Window Star
  • Make Cards
  • Make something for a neighbor and deliver it
  • Visit the Elderly
  • Make a Wreath

I’m sure you get the idea, and I’m sure you can think of many great ideas to add to such a list.

And I had a further thought: As a family you could write down one activity on a card or piece of paper, then put them all in a jar or a basket, and let your children pick one activity from the basket each day. It might be in the morning, after your children open the door on the Advent calendar.

Choose one activity from the basket to perform that day. Not a big task, not an all-day thing, but an activity that will let you take time away from the busyness, do something fun together, something that may be for others, something that helps bring the joy back into the season.

I would like to leave you with a passage from one of my favorite books on Waldorf education. It’s called The Recovery of Man in Childhood by A.C. Harwood.

I was reading this week a chapter about celebrating festivals with children, and he writes:

“The festivals, which have survived from older times, have become commercialized orgies of spending, and present-giving, and eating, and drinking. The child needs more than this. Civilization needs more than this. If we nourish the soul of the child by providing a spiritual experience of the rhythm of the seasons, it is also feeding a starving world.”

So, I invite you to reflect on that, and I welcome your comments this week. What other activities can you suggest that you can perform as a family with children, — simple activities to bring meaning to this time of year? And what ways have you found of slowing down during this busy time and connecting with the true meaning of the season to find soul nourishment for yourself?

Let me know, let others know. I welcome hearing from you. Have a peaceful and meaningful week., and see you next Sunday!

Please visit Lynn Jericho’s website for inspiration in finding  your own Inner Christmas.

What other activities with children can you suggest for a more meaningful holiday season?

What ways do you find to keep your inner light burning at this busy time of year?

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