The Weeks Before Christmas and All through the School all the children were stirring…. December 19 2019
The holidays bring a lot of excitement into a child’s life, and there are so many events in a Waldorf school and at home:
- Thanksgiving ushers in “Advent” in many schools with a winter garden spiral in which the children experience the growing of light in the darkness with individual candles lighting a pathway of winter greens;
- In many schools St. Nicholas comes and explains to the children all their good and other deeds, with hope for the future;
- Some schools do a ceremony with Santa Lucia either with second graders connected to the curriculum of holy people and heroes or in fourth grade with the curriculum of Norse mythology and history;
- Every Monday morning there might be an assembly including the whole school and seasonal songs, and lighting of candles each week as the time gets closer to Hanukah, Christmas, the solstice and the turning of the Sun;
- Teachers often have a winter wreath in the classroom and a menorah so that the morning verse includes some celebration of light and reverence to honor the season;
- Many schools have a concert to celebrate the seasons, and this is often very formal and consists of the orchestras in the school, choral singing, and might even happen in a nearby venue like a church or a formal hall in a public building;
- Then there is the holiday break from school, which is preceded by an assembly, and perhaps, is chock full of gifts from teachers to students, parents to teachers, students to teachers, teachers to parents, teachers to teachers.
All of these things take careful preparation on the part of teachers and add to the usual diligent preparation of main lesson material, as learning continues through all these events. Working to prepare these important celebrations and to remain calm and light-filled oneself is a challenging task all teachers face. Outside in the “real” world, the frenzy of purchasing, decorating, sending holiday greetings, and holiday baking gives children many things to participate in and experience. It’s really exciting!
Sitting still in school for learning, already a challenge for many little people can become unbearable with so many exciting things going on. In Waldorf schools, we often tell the children that the clear crisp nights of winter open up the windows to heaven so that heavenly beings can draw nearer in these weeks that prepare us for celebration. If a grandparent or another loved one dies in this time, it is safe to say to children that the angels called them at a particular time of year, needing them back in heaven again before the holiday comes. This can ease the confusing sorrow that comes with the loss of someone dear.
With all of these wonderful experiences, one might wish for children to feel lucky, reverent, filled with wonder and awe. Teachers know that often children feel excited without the other inspiring feelings. They can feel overwhelmed or guilty that they are not very good to be showered with gifts or praise from Saint Nicholas. They can also feel the opposite — entitled to expect to receive what they want.
Teachers wish for their students in Waldorf schools to feel the warmth of inner light, the courage to face the darkness with the confidence of coming light and care for those in our world less fortunate. They often can experience that their students quarrel more, become petty and teasing, envious of others, obstreperous, and sometimes, cantankerous. One teacher might move the desks around in a variety of ways to see if this might prompt kinder, less quarrelsome behavior. Another teacher might find herself working at singing more with an eighth-grade class to try to encourage a mood of greater harmony. Sometimes these “techniques” work and sometimes they do not.
Parents often complain of bickering at home among siblings, or reluctance to be helpful with preparations at home.
So, what is it with this season? Why, when we might wish for the best behavior in the young, this very thing becomes the most unlikely?
This darkest time of year is always a testing time. Think about this: We need patience with ourselves and others as we press to get many things done. We need the courage to get through all we need to accomplish during these busy days. We need kindness to remember that others are also stressed and busy, that children are excited and need extra help in containing themselves. Things we attempt to “pull off” are often less spectacular than the way we imagined they might be. Stress is never a helpful mood of soul and often makes peace and light impossible. Children, psychic as we all notice them to be, “read” these inner struggles of ours and experience themselves as well.
Finding moments such as bedtime stories, moments before a meal when some ritual can be made, or even counting the days (advent calendars, crèche scenes toward which characters can advance a little each day with a song, stories of Christmases long ago, candle lighting for Hanukah, or helping to wrap gifts or cookies for others are good examples). If we can take time to prepare these ideas and carry them out, children are greatly calmed and can experience more than only unbearable excitement.
One cannot taste or hear or smell the unique nature of these weeks leading up to the big holiday celebrations, but we do somehow, experience the different quality in these weeks, even with the bustle and noise of the commercial side of it all. This feeling is the best evidence of the engagement in a different way of our own higher self, our angel, and the presence of other higher beings. Asking for help is also a calming experience. Finding moments of inner peace, joy at the beauty of what’s happening outside, giving our full attention to a child, without interruption, these are things that nourish us through these busy days and get us through to the turning of the season to increasing light. It’s our job to provide light for our young people until this happens in nature. The stronger our striving, the brighter the light, both inside and out!