The Winter Garden in Waldorf Schools November 27 2022
The Waldorf Winter Garden or Advent Garden/Spiral
Garden of Light
In a Winter Garden,
Dark the Earth below,
Earth is waiting, waiting, waiting
For her seeds to grow.
Many young children are afraid of the dark. Actually, many grown-ups are afraid of the dark, too. Late autumn and early winter, when the days grow short and the darkness dominates everything, festivals help mark the time until the light begins to fill the days again. The important message for children is that we each carry a light within that becomes important in wintertime.
First there is Michaelmas or The Feast of St. Michael: This is at Autumn equinox when the day is exactly as long as night. The stories at this time help us gather courage. This courage serves us when Halloween comes, and the earth breathes out its last of the year’s efforts of growth and the harvest is done. The quiet is absolute and scary in North American cultures! Death is apparent in all the fields. The Day of the Dead in Latin cultures (el Día de los Muertes). In these cultures, death is more of a friend, and remembering those who have passed is a joy and a necessity. Next is followed, in the United States, with Thanksgiving. Our hearts relax and experience gratitude when we realize the abundance of the harvest and the good fortune we have to be alive. Gathering with family and close friends to prepare for the winter season gives us comfort.
During the month of December, the days grow their darkest. In Waldorf schools, just after Thanksgiving, there is a celebration called the Winter Garden, or the Advent Garden. Advent means “To Come” and aside from this term used in some religious celebrations, it is meant to announce the deep anticipation of the return of the light. For children (and adults!) it is important to build a picture of the inner light in each person as the way forward in the darkness.
Karl König, anthroposophical doctor in the early part of the twentieth century, invented this celebration for Camphill Villages, to give community members a way to picture the need for light in the darkness, a way to anticipate mindfully the return of the light. Many cultures and religions have celebrations at this December time of year: Hanukkah, Christmas, and Druid Solstice ceremonies to name a few. Each celebrates the Sun’s willingness to become stronger from this point in the year onward.
For the Advent Spiral or Winter Garden, children come into a darkened room filled with a spiral of evergreens on the floor. Teachers carefully prepare this spiral of living greens, dotted with pinecones, crystals and other elements of the natural world that last through the winter. The evergreens make a path for children to walk in a spiral to the center. The evergreen spiral is dotted with crystals, flowering plants, and other treasures. In the center of the spiral is a candle. Into the dark room comes one child carrying a lighted taper. Often this child is dressed in white like an angel. Walking slowly around the spiral to show the watching children how to do it slowly and mindfully, the "angel" then lights the candle waiting at the center of the spiral and takes the lighting taper with her as she slowly walks back out of the spiral.
Then, one by one each child goes to the start of the spiral and receives from a teacher an apple with a candle inserted into a carved hole in the apple. The child walks the spiral with the unlit candle, goes to the center and lights the candle on the central candle that was lighted by the “angel” of the Winter Garden, the first child. Once the candle is lit, the child walks carefully back through the spiral and finds a place on the spiral to set the apple down with the now-lit candle. Then the next child comes and does the same thing. Each child has a turn until all the children have had the chance to light a candle and place it on the spiral. Music plays and fills the room while the children walk the garden and light their candles one by one.
By the end of the ceremony, the spiral is bright with light, illuminated with all the children’s candles. This offers the children a powerful picture of light in the darkness, of one’s candle contributing to the great light with others in the dark world, of the coming of light from each of us. It offers a reminder of the reliable turning of the sun from weakness to strength each year at the Winter Solstice. Waiting quietly in the darkness for the return of the light, contributing a little bit from each person to make the world bright — offer important lessons to learn for life.
Few words and powerful pictures offer the best kind of learning.