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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

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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 just came to the realization that St. Lucia and Candlemas are two separate holidays. Duh! Of course, I would not readily be aware of the difference, as these are not family traditions. However, I likely should have known the difference. Like all other holidays clustered around the Winter Solstice, these two holidays focus on the theme of “light in the darkness.” Candles figure prominently in the holiday imagery, and both holidays are European in origin and appear in Waldorf-oriented resources. The similarities amongst the two holidays appear to end there, however. St. Lucia is a Swedish holiday commemorating the life and apparently gruesome death of St. Lucia. St. Lucia is presented as a beautiful and wealthy young girl who has a propensity for charitable acts. Her pious nature only increases when her mother becomes ill and she commits to living her life in chastity, if her mother is healed. The mother is healed and St. Lucia lives up to her vow. Unfortunately, a jealous man who can not tempt St. Lucia to break her vows has her killed. Her life is subsequently celebrated in Sweden with a theme song, local fare and children dressing as St. Lucia, female attendants and “star boys.”

Candlemas occurs on the same date as Ground Hog’s day and celebrates (depending on your spiritual stripe) a Celtic Goddess or the presentation of Jesus in the Temple. The day is generally heralded by adherents as the beginning of spring and candle creation is a fun activity enjoyed on the day.

Being somewhat caught off guard, I hurried to create a chaulkboard drawing to at least acknowledge St. Lucia Day. More to come!

St. Lucia Day (1)

St. Lucia Day (1)

St. Lucia Day (2)

St. Lucia Day (2)

St. Nick’s Day certainly was not “all that.” I do not think I did such a great job incorporating this Dutch Holiday into our overall holiday festivities. I originally posited Nick as a sort of “helper” who came to collect Christmas wish lists and left a few small trinkets to tide waiting children over. Not only did we forget the whole “wish list in the shoe” idea, my son saw a conflicting DVD that provided another explanation for St. Nick himself. Here, St. Nick was described as Santa himself. Oh, my. Fortunately, my son didn’t call me out on that. The whole idea of St. Nick Day sort of went by the wayside. That’s all well and good as I am a Krampus fanatic, and St. Nick simply doesn’t compare. Nevertheless, my son made me some cute ornaments, and that’s good enough for me.

St. Nick Ornament (1)

St. Nick Ornament (1)

St. Nick Ornament (2)

St. Nick Ornament (2)

St. Nick Ornament (3)

St. Nick Ornament (3)

In my quest to fill the holidays with magic, I am trying to recognize some of the more obscure (from an American perspective) holidays that occur during the Winter. The first holiday that I am trying hard to incorporate is St. Nick’s Day. St. Nick’s Day celebrates the actual Saint from which Santa is based and is–apparently–a more low key, religious take on the seasonal gift givers. Obviously, a holiday such as St. Nick’s Day appears to be redundant with Christmas itself. Consequently, I had to consider ways in which to make this holiday uniquely special. I assumed I had a roadblock until I came across a video on lapbooking. I found myself so inspired by the video that I determined to make a lapbook for St. Nick’s Day. Once I committed myself to the task, I found it quite easy to create the lapbook and to incorporate a wide variety of information, stories, games and other activities around the day’s theme of selfless giving.

This is the lapbook’s cover. It features a simple picture of St. Nick which may be colored. It needs a little more oomph to it, but it will make do for now. In the very near future, I hope to create a decorative title which will be affixed above the St. Nick picture.

This is the inside cover of the laptop. Here, a fanciful picture of St. Nick can be seen poised above a small mountain of shoes. In the Netherlands, St. Nick’s visit results in shoes being filled with fruit, candies and small trinkets.

This is the cover for a fold-out story of St. Nick. I essentially printed out a story that consists of two pages printed on one side of paper. I folded the paper in half and cut out an imposing picture of St. Nick and pasted it on the blank side of the story.

Here is a simplified version of the St. Nick story. St. Nick has some fairly lurid stories associated with him, so I went for a simplified tell that left something to the imagination.

To make the most of the space allotted by the folders that comprise the lapbook, I incorporated an envelope to hold pieces for a bingo activity. I layered some papers for a drawing activity and a fold out “bag of coins” to further discussion of the St. Nick lesson. The other folder is likewise filled with side activities including a St. Nick puzzle and some material to make St. Nick ornaments.

The flap containing the St. Nick story opens out to reveal a Bingo game. The reverse side of the fold-out flap also contains a pocket which can be used to contain other elements of the St. Nick lesson plan.

Finally, the rear of the lapbook contains a matching game that prompts one to search through a picture and circle objects that start with the letter S. Here, I should point out, St. Nick traditionally travels on a ship, so the S is a fitting letter to associate with the seafaring saint and his ship.

The Squirrel chaulkboard drawing was okay. However, I only had white chaulk. Consequently, the drawing simply didn’t have the oomph that I was going for. I decided to switch the drawing when I incorporated the new handmade leaves into the decor. I was at a loss. I wasn’t quite sure what sort of theme to work with. I only know that I wanted something that evoked the spirit of November. I ended up “borrowing” from a drawing I saw on another Waldorf. Not very original, but it looks great!

Scarecrow Chaulkboard

Scarecrow Chaulkboard

This past weekend, we went overboard in our big run-up to Thanksgiving. First, we made a charming leaf mobile. We found this craft in a homeschooling enrichment guide published by Little Acorn Learning. Here, we are getting started by painting the base material that will later be cut into leaf shapes.

Painting the Leaves

Painting the Leaves


After a vigorous painting session, the pre-leaves are left out to dry on a trash bag. Couldn’t risk painting the table as well!
Drying the Leaves

Drying the Leaves


Here’s the leaves all cut out and hung up mobile style from two branches mounted on an overhead light.
Finished Leaves

Finished Leaves


After the fact, we realized that we had too many leaves for the mobile. We could have made it significantly more impressive, but I was losing steam by this point. Consequently, I decided to take a few of the more darker, redder leaves and make hang them from a “thankfulness tree.” The “thankfulness tree” is an upcoming Thanksgiving Project. I intended for my son to hang little cards on the three that listed things for which he is thankful. That will still take place. However, the tree will be a little more jazzy in appearance than originally planned.
Thankfulness Tree

Thankfulness Tree

I adore this video. I’m not entirely sure what’s happening, but it appears to be a re-enactment of St. Martin traveling through the snow. Whatever it is, this will be the inspiration for next year’s St. Martin’s Day extravaganza. We’re very much into pageantry and theater and this is something we could pull off at home albeit on a much smaller scale.

Today, we actually put some effort into celebrating a Waldorf Holiday. It’s not so much that the Waldorf school of philosophy invented the holiday. Instead, the holiday appears to be a traditional French holiday that picked up traction in Germany in other parts of Europe. The holiday itself is a celebration of the life of St. Martin. Martin was apparently a Roman soldier who’s spiritual aspirations leading him to a monastic life. The stories surrounding him speak of a pious man who once jeopardized his own life by giving a snowbound beggar part of his protective winter cloak. This story concludes by claiming that the beggar was actually Jesus or some other heavenly figure who was putting Martin’s piety to the test.

We celebrated Martin for the spiritual aspects related to this time of year. It’s focus on pacifism, light, remembrance and charity are in keeping with our Unitarian values. We celebrated the day by singing a St. Martin’s Day song, telling a St. Martin’s Day story and enacting a puppet show. We then discussed the risk that Martin willingly took on by giving away his winter clothing. What we did not do was create lanterns. Promenading about with lanterns is a big part of the Waldor St. Martin celebration. We were unable to fit that in and had just made votives for All Souls’, so we passed this year. Maybe next!

Wooden St. Martin Figure

Wooden St. Martin Figure

St. Martin Paper Bag Puppets

St. Martin Paper Bag Puppets

St. Martin Paper Bag Puppet

St. Martin Paper Bag Puppet