As a school, we take a lot of care in celebrating our annual festivals. Below you will find an explanation of each celebration, including background information and a description. While we celebrate each festival the same way each year, they can also vary slightly from year to year.
The yearly festivals play an important role in Waldorf education. They combine both pre-Christian and Christian elements and are linked to the seasons and the cycle of life in nature. By celebrating the year’s festivals, children gain an appreciation for the rhythm of the year by marking the changing of the seasons. They also give us a sense of community. There are celebrations that we celebrate together as a school and some are celebrated on classroom level. Most festivals that are described here are celebrated in a small way within the classrooms and sometimes we ask parents to join.
Festivals throughout the year—at a glance:
Here is a list of all the year’s festivals.
During the summer, everything in nature grows, blooms and matures. Now it’s time to harvest the gifts that nature has given us: apples, pears, plums and berries. The fruits are ripe and can be dried or made into jam. Autumn starts on the 21st of September, when day and night last an equal amount of time. The different festivals that accompany us through this period of the year have to do with the themes of harvest: courage, perseverance, gratitude, sharing, and striving for goodness: Michaelmas, Saint Marten, Saint Nicholas and Advent.
Michaëlmas: September 29
Michael ensures strong crops and a good harvest. In the autumn he helps man by giving strength. He encourages people to recognize and fight evil and to prevent it. The legend of the angel Michael is a story of courage, where he overcomes evil by fighting a dragon. During Michaelmas, the Kindergarten classes make applesauce as they sing songs about autumn and the harvest. Freshly baked Michael bread is eaten. The higher classes focus on the strength and courage of Michael, and on the story of saint George (Joris) and the dragon.
Harvest festival: October 18
This is where we invite parents to join us for a harvest festival. This festival combines elements of all the other autumn festivals.
Saint Martin: November 11
Nature withdraws. The animals hide in their holes and the trees turn yellow, red and brown. The days become shorter and the temperature drops.
According to legend, there was a soldier named Martin, who gave half of his warm cloak to a beggar. Through this act he has become the symbol of goodness and willingness to sacrifice. Goodness, sharing and giving are the central themes of this festival. The celebration of Saint Marten is 40 days before Christmas and marks the the beginning of the various light festivals that accompany us through the darker time of the year.
In Kindergarten, the children carve pumpkins and parents help, by making a lantern for their child, out of a root, like a turnip or beet, and decorate it with figures that can be seen when lit up.
The entire school is darkened during Saint Marten. The children walk through the neighbourhood with their lantern and sing songs at people’s doors.
Advent: from the fourth Sunday before Christmas
The darkest time of the year has arrived. Trees are bare and their leaves form a blanket. The light of the sun decreases and becomes weak, and we are inclined to seek our own inner light. The Christ Child can be seen as a symbol of such light.
The four Sundays before Christmas are celebrated as Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word “adventus” which means coming; we may anticipate the coming of new light, after the mid-winter solstice. Every Monday after the four advent Sundays the classes are darkened and an extra candle from the advent wreath is lit. The children softly make music and sing advent songs. We look towards the dark time of year and some classes perform a midwinter or Christmas story.
Saint Nicolaas: December 5
The trees lose their last leaves and although it is cold and bleak outside, it is warm and cosy inside.
According to legend, Saint Nicholas lived in the 4th century AD in Myra, Turkey and was a simple monk. He healed the sick and helped those in need, after which he was ordained a bishop. He died on December 6, 342. In medieval times, Nicholas became the patron saint of children and on this day, his life is celebrated by giving food and gifts.
In preparation for St Nicholas, parents help make a gift for their own. All children receive the same gift but because every parent makes it according to the taste of their own child all presents are different.
During the weeks before Saint Nicolas, Sinterklaas songs are sung and pepernoten (small spicy cookies) are baked.
Nature is bare and there are fewer signs of life. Winter begins on December 21st with the winter solstice which is the longest night and the shortest day. After this, sunlight will increase. The festivals that accompany us throughout winter are connected to values, such as: keeping an inner light burning, spreading warmth, finding your goal in life, recognizing truth: Christmas, Epiphany, Candlemas.
We celebrate a Mid-Winter festival/Christmas during the last week before the Christmas holidays. All four candles burn in the advent wreath, the children attend the Christmas play, which is performed by the teachers. The teachers also perform the big Christmas play for parents and other interested parties.
Epiphany: January 6
It is winter and every day the weather gets a little bit colder. According to the story of Christmas, three wise men from the East saw a special star in the sky. For them, the star was a sign that a special child, maybe a king, was born. The three wise men followed the star to the manger where the baby lay, for they wanted to honour him. They each gave him a gift: gold, frankincense and myrrh.
At school, the children celebrate this festival within the intimacy of their class, each class in their own way.
Candlemas / (Maria Lichtmis): February 2
The sun becomes more powerful and the days are longer. The dark period of the year is over and the light festivals end. We welcome the light of the sun, which is becoming stronger.
In class, the remaining candles are burnt and all the songs of the festivals throughout winter are sung one more time.
The sun becomes more powerful and nature awakens. The tiny buds on the trees open up, flowers bloom and birds return and start building nests. The festivals that accompany us through this period are linked to themes of rebirth, joy, fertility and overcoming darkness: Palm Sunday, Easter, and Whitsun.
Palm Sunday: April 3
Palm Sunday is celebrated one week before Easter. In Pre-Christian times, Palm Sunday was a celebration of fertility — it later became a Christian celebration.
The children make an Easter stick that is decorated with ribbons, eggs, currants, raisins and dried apples and on top of the stick sits a rooster made of bread. The stick symbolizes the growth and life forces of man, the eggs and the dried fruit stand for new life, and the rooster for the new day. During the celebration of Palm Easter, the home-made bread roosters are stuck on top of the sticks, and the children sing songs, while they walk with their nicely decorated Palm Easter sticks.
Easter: April 12 (the first Sunday after the first full moon in the spring)
Nature has reawakened more and more: trees and flowers start to grow and bloom. The spring equinox is on the 21st of March, where night and day last just as long. After this happens, spring has started, and Easter is celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon. This is when the Christians remember the resurrection of Christ.
In school we celebrate Easter as a spring festival and the renewal of life, by painting eggs and sowing seeds for the new year.
Whitsun: fifty days after Easter, May 29 (at school)
Almost everything in nature is in bloom. Summer is on its way.
An important element in this holiday is nature bursting into bloom and birds who lay their eggs. We celebrate nature at its most beautiful.
The children dance and sing in white clothes around the Maypole.
Nature has unfolded completely; the sun is at its most powerful and the days at its longest. As humans, we are outside and relish the power that the sun gives us.
Saint John: June 24
On June the 24th we celebrate the mid-summer solstice, which is connected to the birth date of Saint John the Baptist.
In preparation parents make a flower wreath from fresh flowers that the children wear during the celebration. The children dance and sing, games are played and we organize a picnic.