Why We Walk the Advent Spiral

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The winds blow cold reminding us all that the chill of winter is coming. The days continue to darken and so we begin to bank the fires of our home life that will help nurture us through the dark winter’s cold.

Advent is approaching: a time for inner preparation as we look forward to kindling the inner light that glows within us all. At the Waldorf School of Cape Cod as well as in many other Waldorf schools there is a tradition of the Advent Spiral. It helps us to prepare for the peaceful celebration of the winter festivals (Christmas among others).

The Advent spiral began in the 1920s when a curative nurse brought it into a group home dedicated to the care of children with disabilities. She had been inspired by the custom from long ago in Bavaria, where farmers would bring moss and twigs into their homes and fashion a garden on a table, which was lit with candles in apples. For them it was an expression of an old parable of Paradise. Later the festival was brought to Waldorf Schools all over the world.

Evergreen boughs (a symbol of life everlasting) are placed in a spiral form on the floor with a large candle in its center. The room is darkened and the mood is peaceful. The spiral begins; one at a time each child walks into the spiral with a lantern in which sits an unlit candle. They walk with or without help from teachers and or parents depending on their needs and make their way to the spiral’s center. There they find the large lighted candle and from it light their own. They place their lantern with care and with help if needed somewhere along the spiral’s path and then they walk their way back to their seat.

It is a special moment to watch a young child wend their way through the spiral’s path and find the universal light that they then take back to give to the world.

The experience of the Advent spiral reflects the human experience at this time of the year; entering a time of darkness, of shorter days and longer nights and going forward with hope to welcome the light of the sun after the winter solstice.

What is Martinmas? How we Celebrate this Festival at WSCC

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by Lynda Johnson, Class 1/2 Teacher

The Lantern Walk, or 'Martinmas', is a festival with European roots.  St. Martin was a Roman soldier of the fourth century who gave his cloak to a beggar, and later in a dream saw Christ clothed in his cloak.  He subsequently devoted the rest of his life to helping the disadvantaged.  He was a man who carried an inner light in a time of darkness.

The festival provides us with an opportunity to consciously mark the point in the cycle of the year when the light and warmth of the sun is retreating.  Electricity and heating systems, although they have become modern necessities, tend to decrease our awareness of the deep rhythms of the earth.  The Lantern Walk allows us to experience the change of season in a sensory way, by lighting lanterns and taking a quiet walk along our woodland pathways at night.

Our Early Childhood classes, as well as classes One/Two and Three/Four will make lanterns in their classes prior to the Lantern Walk.  While singing our lantern songs (and tucking away cell phones and chatter), we will then proceed outside along the paths.  The walk is not long but the experience is memorable.  Stepping into the darkness, we are guided just by the light of our lanterns and luminaries placed along the pathway.  Although we will be singing as we walk, we may hear an owl, a crackling stick, or the wind.  If we are lucky, the moon and the stars will be shining overhead. 

When the walk comes to an end, we will then proceed with the same quiet intention and reverence to our cars, and then on to our homes.

To strengthen the mood of the Lantern Walk, some possibilities are:

*Prepare yourself and your children by eating an early dinner or hearty snack beforehand.  All family members should dress warm and wear good walking shoes.

*Although the event is short, you might expand it into an opportunity to have a more mindful day in order to be more receptive to the mood of the evening.  You might try to notice some of the signs that mark the retreat of autumn, or to work a little more slowly and deliberately than normal throughout the day, or to eat by candlelight.  

*End the evening by getting ready for bed early and then telling your young children a story by the light of their lit lantern (rather than reading them a book).

Why We Teach Handwork


by Louisa Hopewell, Handwork Teacher

Handwork projects are in full swing as we enter into October at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod.  I am pleased to say that the general atmosphere in the handwork room is enthusiastic. After taking some time off from fiber arts, for the most part, this summer (knitting at the beach after applying sunscreen did not give its usual appeal) myself and the students have been eager to get back to our daily dose of knitting.  Students are knitting scarves, crocheting recorder cases, designing cross stitch patterns, knitting socks and mittens with double pointed needles, and studying the ins and outs of sewing machines. I have missed watching students create beautiful work but more than that I have missed seeing what these creations do to their confidence.  

It is no small feat learning how to knit or to follow a pattern.  It takes time to see how a cross stitch needle goes in and out to create a perfect stitch.  Using size 3, double-pointed needles to make not just one mitten, but two, takes a huge amount of determination and focus. It is my job to teach technique, fix dropped stitches, encourage another row when all feels lost.  But what I have realized more than anything about being Ms. Hopewell at the Waldorf School of Cape Cod is that it’s not just about guiding students to create work.

Handwork is about finding a piece of yourself that you might not have seen before. This finding is unique and different for each student. It might be a creative side that they had not plugged into before.  It might ease their anxiety to the point where they ask me if they could bring their knitting home to work on. It might be a way for them to be more in their body at a time when screens are the norm for free time.  More common than not, I see students feel truly surprised that they are able to make something so beautiful. It gives them confidence in themselves that they can translate throughout their lives when things feel difficult.  They become the best versions of themselves when they are creating and it is a gift to be able to guide them through this process.