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I had recently visited my favorite Waldorf bookstore, and I came across a very colorful little book entitled “Little Gnome Tenderroot.” The cover was painted in a rainbow of colors in a style evocative of Waldorf wet-on-wet watercolor paintings. The gnomish face poking out of that array of colors was impish and intriguing. What was Little Gnome Tenderroot’s story, I wondered. Better yet, would Little Gnome Tenderroot be of interest to any of the children participating in a bookswap with my child? I was certain they might–not having actually read the book–and I picked up the gnome book fully intending to gift it. However, I thought that I would need two of these books. I couldn’t deprive my son of the joy of this tale, so I inquired about a second copy. Nope. This one little book was it. I hate to admit it, but I decided that my son needed this book more than any of his friends, so I grabbed a copy of the can’t-go-wrong Wind in the Willows and left with my books. Later, I came to the realization that Little Gnome Tenderroot would not make the ideal Secret Santa type of gift.

Once I got past the cute cover, I realized that this was not the typical Waldorf fairy story. Instead, the Tenderroot tale seemed less of a tale and more of a dramatization of Rudolf Steiner’s complex metaphysics. I have read chunks of Steiner’s Nature Spirits, so I got the gist of what Steiner theories were being personified through the gnome, tree spirits and other entities in the narrative. However, I realized that persons with no familiarity of Steiner would not be able to make heads or tails out of the strange goings on. Sadly, I realized any non-Waldorf person receiving this book might think it a cruel regift or some sort of bizarre ramblings. I am not entirely into Gnome Tenderroot as a story. However, I may try to revamp the clunky narrative in my telling and try to incorporate it into our homeschooling adventures in a way that would make sense to a child who is not read up on Anthroposophy. I will also try to read the original author (Jakob Streit) in various translations to see if the story in other narratives seems to fall as flat due to phrasing.

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Little Gnome Tenderroot

Today, as a treat, I drove my son nearly two hours out into the middle of nowhere. The goal was to see Richard Jones staging of Hansel and Gretel for the Metropolitan Opera. This was not live by any means. Instead, it was a film of that production. The trip was nearly ruined due to my iphones directing us to a street of the same name in another town. This caused us to arrive fifteen minutes into the film, but I was determined to see this production. My son was less determined but mostly went along with the plan. What we saw was unexpected and mostly entertaining.

First, I must admit that Opera is not always a good choice for small children. This Opera was sung in English, but the voicing made it difficult to understand the words. I could read the subtitles flashing across the bottom of the screen, but my son did not have this benefit. Second, the contemporary and revisionist staging employed by contemporary, high-brow set designers can be confusing to children. This is an understatement. Hansel and Gretel’s home was a minimalist apartment splashed in shade’s of grey. An empty refrigerator was all that really evoked the hunger of the traditional story. The “woods” in which Hansel and Gretel became lost was yet another obvious room with woodland themed wallpaper and dark trim. Curiously, a very long table split the stage in half and it’s raison d’etre only became obvious during a dream sequence. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Witch’s “House.” There was absolutely NO gingerbread house. Contemporary, avant garde, revisionist or not, there needs to be a gingerbread house. It’s just not the same without it. In it’s place, to really confuse matters was a floor to ceiling painting. It was nearly all red with lips and exposed teeth painted on it. This was essentially a wide open mouth through which a giant tongue came to protrude. On that tongue was a ridiculously large cake. This certainly can’t be making sense to any reader. However, the set was basically a wall with a giant mouth sticking out its tongue with a cake poised on it. Hansel and Gretel couldn’t help but notice this and began to devour the cake while someone off-stage complained about “nibbling” on her house. LOL. Truly not right. About the only thing that would make sense from a child’s perspective was the final “Witch’s Kitchen.” That was a properly constructed kitchen fit for a witch.

Finally, two things really made this production shine in the end. First, the characters were marvelous. The modern parents were a bore. However, the sandman and the “creep-tree” type creatures inhabiting the forest were fantastic. A group of chefs and a fish-headed butler that inhabited a dream sequence were stellar. The witch just stole the whole show. The witch was a gentleman in drag and possible in a fat suit. He was very Monty Python and gave the production the color it needed to end with a bang. Second, food or lack thereof was the central theme of this staging, and the last seen was a veritable food fight and/or food orgy. The characters were literally covered in food, fighting with food and spitting out food left and right. They were absolutely filthy and some of the food gags were revolting. Nevertheless, it was hysterically funny.

If one could see this production live, I would definitely recommend it. The film version is a toss-up. The presence of “making of” scenes interspersed between acts detracted from the magic and showed aspects of the production that would be of no interest to many children. It may be best to leave this for adults or older children who are more experienced with Opera stagings.

One of my favorite Waldorf traditions is the Advent or Winter spiral. The spirals are typically constructed earlier in December. They may consist of pine branches or other natural materials laid out in a spiral formation on a floor or a ground. A lit candle is then placed on the innermost point of the spiral. Once constructed, the spirals are the centerpiece for a simple yet profoundly spiritual event. Participants either arrive past dark (outside spirals) or dim the lights (indoor spirals). Then, one participant will enter the spiral with a candle possibly embedded in an apple. The participant will walk the length of the spiral and then light her or her own candle and begin the trip back. At some point along the way, the participant will place the candle on the ground or floor to lit a little section of the spiral. Hence, light is created in darkness to aid the next walker.

As more and more participants traverse the spiral, their light brightens the spiral with a beautiful effect. Verses, songs or music may heighten the mood of the event, but the increase in light is the key goal. Unfortunately, I seem to forget that many Winter spirals are held prior to the actual Winter solstice. Consequently, I have missed out on two such spirals. This year–due in part to the success of the Krampus event–I decided that anything was possible. I would have my spiral regardless of the number of participants, what little I had to construct it and the lateness of the month. I set about creating the the spiral in a backyard setting with a combination of rocks and bricks. My son helped as well. It took an inordinate amount of time, but the spiral was built.

 Backyard Spiral

Backyard Spiral

I then made a quick run to the store to buy flameless candles and some gold, star garland. I ran the garland around the perimeter of the spiral and placed the flameless candles on the innermost point of the spiral. Flameless candles don’t sound so great, but I didn’t want to risk burning down the house!

Flameless Candles

Flameless Candles

Finally, when the time came, my son and I went out past sunset and we took eight turns each traversing the spiral and placing candles. We also recited versions marking the “getting” of the light and the “bringing” of the light. In a short amount of time, the spiral was brightly lit just as planned.

Voila! Light in the darkness.

Just Look at All That Light

Just Look at All That Light

But wait… There’s more. I just have to include this awesome picture of my son, post-spiral. He was quite proud of his accomplishment both creating and walking the spiral. The creation was certainly hard work. The bricks and rocks were heavy and numerous trips were required to get our creation right. Walking the spiral was difficult both physically and mentally. It’s no easy feat walking a spiral pattern in the darkness. Both of us suffered from some degree of dizziness and disorientation. Prior to the “lighting up” stage, both of us had trouble staying in the right “whorl” of the spiral. The trips were made even harder for my son due to the hollowing wind, shadows and rustling objects. My son became quite fearful of the whole affair about mid-way through. He wanted nothing more to run into the house and lock the door. However, he pushed on till the end. Later, I explained to him the role of light in extinguishing fear, and we reasoned that the early creators of these types of lighting ceremonies possibly designed the events to dispel such things as things lurking in the dark or fear of such things in the dark.

Warming Up, Post-Spiral

Warming Up, Post-Spiral

I had envisioned a Christmas Eve with folks singing Christmas carols, while I played the organ. Hah! That didn’t happen. The idea of singing was apparently offensive to some people. I can’t sing, and I discovered that the book that I was using was only useful if a person plays the organ two-handed. Yes, I know that keyboards are best played with two hands. However, the violin was my instrument of choice, and I only played the notes on the treble clef. Now, I found to my surprise that the music just did not sound right in sections unless one played the notes associated with the bass clef. So much for that idea. I did discover that playing one handed was more than sufficient for playing the many Winter-themed songs in the Wynstones Press Winter book. That will be useful when we return to homeschooling proper and need music for puppet shows and other seasonal activities.

Breaking Out the Organ

Breaking Out the Organ

HABA is one of my all time favorite toy producers. Both HABA and my other favorite producer Ravensburger make some of the best toys for children that can be had. To set the proper mood for Christmas Eve, I broke out HABA’s Sternsammler board game. “Sternsammler” means “Star Collector,” and the game is based on the folktale of the Starkind. Starkind tells the tale of a poor, orphaned girl who goes out into the world on a cold winter’s night with nothing but a bit of bread and the layers of clothing on her back. For whatever reason, she heads into the woods and gradually gives away the bread and all her layers of clothes to various beggars that she meets. Finally, she finds herself in the middle of nowhere with nothing left at all. The stars then shine down on her and shower her with gold coins as a repayment for her exemplary altruism. She emerges from the woods with untold wealth and a new gown made of starbeams or some such gauzy and magical material. Possibly due to lack of name recognition, this game was renamed “Pennies from Heaven” for English speaking audiences. It is a fairly basic game, but it comes with the Starkind story and I read the tale before gameplay to ensure that the Starkind’s lesson informs the gameplay.

Star Collector Box

Star Collector Box

Star Collector Game

Star Collector Game

This year, I wanted to make an effort of incorporating Advent into our holiday schedule. I had already made the “Advent box,” which my son took to calling the “Mystery box.” I had vainly attempted to needle felt an advent spiral mat, and I had contemplated getting the four candles. However, Advent didn’t come to fruition in the way that I had imagined. Instead, this little book fell into my lap. Actually, it didn’t fall upon me in any, real serendipitous or mysterious way. I actually bought it in a Waldorf/Anthroposophical bookstore. Still, I certainly hadn’t intended to buy it, and I didn’t really know what I was purchasing. I liked the cover, and I assumed it was a collection of unrelated Christmas stories with gnomes and fairies and talking mice. It hadn’t occurred to me that it was a collection of stories that followed Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem. True to Waldorf form, there were four blocks of stories that each related to Mary and Joseph’s interaction with the mineral, plant, animal and human kingdoms. If one is not into Waldorf, per se, this may not be a familiar concept. Suffice it to say, this is not the typical journey to Bethlehem that one might first envision. Instead, the tale starts off on a road–any road, in a non-descript place–and that road is fraught with perils. The first perils are mostly rocks to big to bypass or gravel to sharp for the travelers and donkey to walk on. The stories tend to resolve with events such as boulders rolling away of their own accord in deference to the holy couple or shards of useless stones turning to crystals or jewels. The second block of stories pertains to vegetation that makes itself available as food or ornamentation to the couple, despite the vegetation’s being out of season. The blocks of stories continue on in this manner until they reach their destination and their child arrives.

Finally, the stories themselves are generally very spare and brief. As stories, they may be too brief and straightforward to really involve a child’s imagination. However, I believe there would be much value in the book, if it were paired with a miniature Advent spiral. Here, I mean a spiral shape made out of wood, fabric, clay or some other material. It would likely have some type of figures that would move along it to mark the passing of the four weeks until advent. I’ve seen many such spirals and they often have rocks, plants, animal figures and human figurines decorating their edges. Pairing the themed stories in the book with the stories in the book would be be a great way to slowly build up the Advent spiral and the general excitation surrounding Christmas.

The Light in the Lantern

The Light in the Lantern

I have been looking for the quintessential Christmas movie or program that I could share with my son. We don’t watch broadcast or cable television, so we aren’t bothered with such trifling things as a “Go, Diego Go! Christmas.” God forbid such a program exists! Instead, we try as much as we can to limit our viewing to quality program that will both educate and entertain my son all the while contributing something of cultural value. After much thought, I chose Hansel and Gretel. It interests me in part, because it is based on traditional, German folktale. However, it is not the sort of thing that I would associate with Christmas. I only established that association after my trip to the Waldorf school. That trip got me to thinking about a stage performance that I had seen on television. It had either been an opera or a ballet and it was every bit as lush as a production of Midsummer Night’s Dream or the Nutcracker. I actually found that program on Amazon. It was an old opera staged with live singers. This was not the version that I settled on, though. Instead, I found a wonderful, stop-motion animation piece that was also based on the real Engelbert Humperdinck’s 1892 opera. My son took to this production immediately, even though the sound quality was somewhat muddled and song lyrics were difficult to understand. Nevertheless, the characters were very engaging, and my son strained to watch the entire show, though each of our attempts to watch it started out quite late in the evening. Without fail, my son fell asleep on three separate occasions right after the lovable sandman comes and sprinkles sand in the children’s eyes. We may revisit the movie for a fourth time on New Year’s Eve, if we find that we have nothing else to do.

Hansel and Gretel

Hansel and Gretel (1954)

My son has a thing for fabulous headgear. He’d been coveting a friend’s Santa hat for some time now, and he came tot he conclusion that he simply had to have his own. I had to buy this hat one particular day just to restore sanity to my life. My son had been alternatively begging and demanding that I get him one, as he was–in so many words–incomplete without it.

Santa Hat

Santa Hat