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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

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

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

My son and I have been slacking off on the homeschooling due to the sheer amount of magic that’s been happening during the month of December. One day prior to Christmas, we tried to get with our usual program and we studied the properties, history and folklore surrounding peppermint and peppermint products. My son tasted, touched and examined mint leaves. He learned that diverse products such as candy canes and toothpaste were either made from peppermint or given a peppermint taste due to the perceived medicinal properties and overall fresh feeling that the plant leaves in the mouth. Similarly, he learned about the storied history of candy canes. I just wished that I had know that a German immigrant named August Imgard was associated with the first appearance of the candy cane in the US. I would have worked that fact in somehow, but I’m sure he would have quickly forgotten it.

Peppermint

Peppermint & Candy Canes

One of the books that I purchased at the relatively local Waldorf Shoppe is called Christmas in the Family. This book is absolutely filled with fabulous holiday craft projects and traditions to add to one’s Christmas repertoire. I was particularly interested in the handmade, paper nativity set, and I delved right into creating my own. So far, I simply have to craft a Joseph and find a means to attach the veil-like headgear to Mary’s head. Below is a photo of the project in progress. More to come…

Three Kings

Three Kings

My son and I recently attended a production of Dicken’s A Christmas Carol staged by a local Waldorf school. The production was fantastic. Imaginative use of the theater space, the introduction of natural elements such as tree branches and the introduction of songs focusing on poverty and compassion added to the production. It was yet another reminder of the importance of Unitarian Charles Dickens important contributions to the evolution of Christmas sentiments. In fact, on Christmas Eve, I am contemplating going to a special Unitarian lecture on the topic of Dicken’s secular contributions to the season. Ordinarily, I would bypass an event due to my son’s activity levels. However, his behavior during the stage production show that he does have the stamina and overall ability to sit quietly for an extended period of time.

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)

My son (Eshu) and I visited our first Waldorf private school. We went on the occasion of a newspaper clipping given to me by a friend. The newspaper clipping in no way conveyed the fun and excitement to be had, so I am very happy that we took the risk and went. What a thrill. As one would expect, the school was hidden away in woods in the middle of nowhere. It is accessible only by a long, winding road up a hill. At the top of that hill, one is presented with a building that is half- rustic barn and half- ultra-contemporary. It looked quite a bit more like a museum than a school. The interior was even more impressive. It was painted in a variety of heavenly pastels and adorned with various natural objects, children’s wet-on-wet watercolor paintings and art made from wood and other natural objects. The layout also deviated from the utilitarian norm seen in most schools. I absolutely adored it.

The events themselves were equally impressive. There was a crystal cave hidden away behind a door painted with a mural of the Starkind. For those who don’t know, this is the tale of an orphan girl who wanders through the woods on a cold. winter’s night. Though she has nothing more than the clothes on her back, she does not hesitate to give them away to another who is freezing. The stars looking down on her then shower her with gold coins as a sign of their approval. Anyway, the crystal cave “door” opened up on a small room with walls decorated in tree branches and faux birds. The floor was covered with a snow like fabric and a bridge lead visitors over the snow to a little pond and waterfall scene situated by a white cave in which a snow queen was sleeping. A girl dressed in a fairy costume read visiting children a story from a handmade book, invited the children to sail waternut shells in the pond and encouraged them to sing the queen awake. Accomodating children were then rewarded with a precious stone or crystal on their way out. There was also a song and piano recital, a cakewalk, a circus of some sort, a German woman telling stories and a fantastic puppet show. The puppet show was so magical that it completely changed my way of approaching the subject. We will be having many of these types of inspired shows in the home, now that I have seen how they are done.

Finally, the faire also had an array of vendors selling natural clothing, imported wooden toys, original artwork and other treasures. I spent a great deal of time shopping while my son got his face painted. Can’t go anywhere nowadays without facepainting. The pictures are quite bad, but he is supposed to have a Winter Frost theme to him.

King of Winter (1)

King of Winter (1)

King of Winter (2)

King of Winter (2)

I was not enthusiast about another Thanksgiving of overeating while sitting around watching football. This year, I decided that Thanksgiving itself should be a memorable event filled with family “traditions.” We don’t really have any family traditions pertaining to this holiday, so we went looking and oh, did we find ideas. The core of our holiday was based on a Pilgrim Unit study that I purchased from a link off of a facebook homeschool site. Apparently, this woman used the lesson plan once as a schooling unit and then the various projects and activities associated with the lesson plan in subsequent Thanksgiving celebrations.

Following her example, I ensured that my son would wake up to the arrival of the Mayflower. It was supposed to “arrive” in the backyard next to the tipi. However, it arrived behind the couch. Good enough.

Mayflower

Mayflower

Next, we tried our hand at baking. My son was very eager to help with the stirring and pouring of cranberry muffin mix.

Baking

Baking

We then invested time creating a Turkey centerpieces for the table.

Turkey Centerpiece

Turkey Centerpiece

I threw together a Thankfulness journal. I must admit that I put it together without my son because I want it to last for a few years. My son likely would have adorned the cover with his famous circles with legs that represent everyone from people to turkeys, suns and beyond.

Thanksgiving Journal

Thanksgiving Journal

While I was crafting away, my son got silly creating a turkey hat form himself and sketching a lopsided face on our sad little scarecrow.

Turkey Hat

Turkey Hat


Scarecrow Gets a Face

Scarecrow Gets a Face

Of course, we got in quite a bit of homeschooling. Well, virtually everything we did was homeschool-centric. We just put in a little more effort completing our Turkey, Pilgrim and Native American themed worksheets. Worksheets do not seem very-Waldorf. However, my son

Homeschool Break

Homeschool Break

After that much-needed break, we put together our Thankfulness Tree. My son wrote down various things for which he is thankful onto stickies-sized paper. He then hung his little slips on the tree.

Tree of Thanks

Tree of Thanks

After all these doings, it still was not time to eat, and my son still had his ya-yas to get out. So, we played a spirited game of marbles. Marbles is definitely not to my liking. However, the Pilgrim Study United cited marbles as a teaching tool to demonstrate what colonial children did for fun. By now, it is no surprise to my son that children during this era did not have televisions, computers and toys common by today’s standards. He continues to find this unimaginable but not surprising. However, he soon realized that he could enjoy the game just the same.

Marbles

Marbles

Finally, it was time to eat. We ate a modest turkey dinner using light from candles and little metal lanterns that we had created to evoke a colonial home.

Candlelight Dinner

Candlelight Dinner