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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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Boys and Doll Play
Archives, Childhood, Parenting, Waldorf Dolls

Boys and Doll Play

KYLA B. WROTE TO ASK:

I am a single mother to a nearly 15-month-old little boy. I was wondering if you might be able to give me with some information on boys playing with dolls. I was hoping you could address the benefits of boys playing with dolls. I have had some disapproving comments and looks from other parents when I try and discuss this with them.

People are concerned that my son has too much of a female influence in his life,  as my son has no father and we live with my parents, but my father is a wonderful role model for my son and they have a very close bond.

People are also under the impression that boys play with trucks and girls with dolls. But I think all toys are for everybody. I thought dolls would help teach my son compassion, caring and even the beginnings of responsibility.

Please help me, Sarah. I’m feeling a little confused as to how to incorporate dolls into my son’s daily play and also how to respond to the critics. Am I best to purchase a weighted doll as my son’s first doll and put his current doll away for later? Or is he not ready yet for dolls?

SARAH RESPONDS:

There is a fear among many men that playing with dolls will make boys less masculine. Sadly, there are some women who also share this belief.

We’ve been conditioned for so many decades to think that boys play with trucks and cars and girls play with dolls and too many boys have been told that playing with dolls is for “sissies.”

This thinking needs to be changed.

Giving a boy a doll gives him the opportunity to explore his nurturing and caring side, and can teach a boy as much about being a father, just as dolls teach girls about motherhood.

Children imitate the adults around them in their play. When mothers and fathers model nurturing, caring behavior, boys and girls will imitate this in their doll play and this is healthy! It teaches children about relationships and empathy.

If a boy spends his days at home with his mother (whether she is a single parent or not) he will want to imitate her activities. This is normal.

This is natural. This is good. He is practicing parenting.

Times have changed. Today’s fathers tend to me much more involved in child-rearing than they were decades ago. It is not uncommon anymore to see a dad with a baby in a sling, or pushing a stroller.

Since children are imitative, it is natural for them to want to carry a dolly in a sling or push one in toy carriage.

And it’s curious how culturally it seems more acceptable to allow a girl to play with traditional “boy toys.” Most people don’t think twice watching a girl playing with building sets, Legos, or toy cars. In fact, many parents are now encouraging their daughters to play with these so called “STEM toys” and teaching their daughters that they can grow up to be a mother and have a career.

So why do so many adults seem alarmed when they see little boys playing with dolls or “playing house” and pretending to cook in a play kitchen? Don’t we want our sons to grow up to caring fathers and capable of cooking a meal?

We need to change our way of thinking and educate others that doll play is important if we want boys to grow up to be nurturing, caring fathers. It doesn’t make them any less masculine.

I believe that all parents of boys should give their son a doll to love. I recommend giving a boy his first doll between 18-months and three-years-old, before he has gotten the memo that boys don’t play with dolls. A one-year-old will probably have little interest in a doll other than to explore it with his senses as he would any other object.

But at 18-24 months he may start snuggling with and be comforted by a favorite soft doll. But it is around age 4-5 when children really begin imitative pretend play with dolls.

It can also be very helpful to give a boy a doll when a new younger sibling is on the way, and can help prepare your child emotionally for the new arrival. Our Heavy Baby Dolls (with their weight that makes them feel like a real baby) are wonderful for this purpose!

What if you give your son a doll and he shows no interest in it? I get this question a lot. I would advise you not to worry. Not all children are going to respond to all toys the same way. If he is too young for it, keep it around and he may show interest in it later.

Some boys become very attached to a special doll, other boys show little interest. Children are unique, just as adults are. There is no one-size-fits-all toy.

The important thing is to give provide your son with a doll and give him the opportunity to develop his nurturing and caring side through play. But remember that there are many ways that children learn to become nurturing and caring adults – the primary way is by being cared for by nurturing parents.

Finally, I’ll leave you with one of my favorite memories as an early childhood teacher as I observed the children in my class during free play. I will never forget the day when Wilson, a little boy in my class who was always full energy and joy, was pretending to nurse a dolly that was tucked under his sweater. He held the baby securely with one arm while he brandished a wooden sword in the other, engaged in a lively sword fight with another boy.

Wilson is a wonderful reminder that boys can play with dolls and be no less of a boy!

Are you the mother of a boy? Have you given your son a doll? Does he play with it? Please share your comments!

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Waldorf Storytelling Circle Time
Homeschooling, Storytelling, Waldorf Education

Storytelling: The Heart of Waldorf Education

From a Parent-Toddler class through the grades, children in a Waldorf school are immersed in stories.

Starting with simple nature stories in the early childhood, children will hear many stories through the years: fairy tales, folk tales, fables, myths, legends, biographies, and stories from history, spoken aloud by the teacher and transmitted heart-to-heart.

In addition, academic subjects throughout the grades−from math to science to history to art to handwork—are all introduced through storytelling.

For example, in a past video blog post on Waldorf watercolor painting, I demonstrated how a kindergarten teacher might introduce painting with a story about “Tippy Brush,” who dips his toes into the water for a foot bath before inviting the other colors to come and play with him.

A first-grade teacher who is introducing the four processes of basic arithmetic may tell an imaginative story about Princess Plus, Duke Division, or Emperor Equal.

Teaching math through storytelling. Used with permission of the Bright Water School.

Teaching math through storytelling. Used with permission of the Bright Water School.

Introducing subjects through stories engages children’s imaginations and strengthens their inner picturing capabilities–their ability to create a picture in their “mind’s eye,” an essential skill for creative thinking later in life. Continue Reading

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