Thursday, December 23, 2010

Quieting and Excitement

It's been a week of quieting and excitement. It began on Sunday with a wrapping up of four weeks of Inner Advent work with Lynn Jericho's group. We've been looking at truth, beauty and goodness in our thinking, feeling and willing and laying it out on a mandala for the year. So much swirling in the mysterious in this past year and so much constellating for the new year. I love doing this work. This year's Inner Advent work was better than last for the group work deepens with time.

Monday we went to the Advent Spiral at the school. It was so beautiful. When I watch my children walk, I always feel tears well in my eyes, every time over the years. It was outdoors, in the dark of night, in the cold, dark of night yet warmth permeated from within. One of the songs that we sang is Now I Walk in Beauty which has been with me all week. Click here to hear it.

The next day was the last day here for a dear little fellow who has been in my program for three years, nearly since he was born, and is now moving on to be with the big kids. I've watched him grow and shared in the joys each new development brings with his lovely and loving family. He's been the little brother to my children. I'm going to miss him. Alot. And his mom and dad.

Now, on vacation, yet working on my new project. Moving towards Christmas. I cannot find the book Mary's Little Donkey this year and we are missing it hugely. We'll  cut down our tree today and let it rest overnight before we start decorating it tomorrow. Tomorrow evening we'll go to a service.

I keep worrying about Christmas morning, have I done enough?  How do we make the Twelve Days of Christmas the focus rather then Christmas morning? What about the anticipation? Santa is pretty regular here,  in what he brings, striped jammies from the elves, matching ones for the children, slippers if needed, a book and a game or toy. He fills the stockings with little treats, a new toothbrush. I make something for each child for Christmas Day. Yet there is so much energy rising, especially for my little one.

We've been singing Christmas songs, our favorites this year seem to be Good King Wencelas, People Look East, Children Go Where I Send Thee, here for a humorous recording of it, The Old Man in the Woods. We're learning The Boar's Head Carol, all from Mary Thienes~Schnumann's The Christmas Star, here. Her books have really helped me over the years to sing more and especially now when I am at home and not in a school community on a daily basis to sing with others.

We'll be moving on to more songs about the Three KIngs and Epihany. I'm working on a Babouschka Circle this year for she is beloved by our family ever since my children were given the Tomie de Paolo books.

This week we baked gingerbread men. We'll be baking for others for Christmas week and we have a knitting and sewing gift project going on. My second grader is making potholders for gifts this year. I'd love to host a cookie exchange if I can pull it together. And I'd love to go caroling.

I am looking forward to another year of The Inner Christmas with Lynn Jericho. Lynn sends out an e-mail message each day with an inspiration to contemplate each night. I need to dig out my Inner Christmas Guide. I think it's with Mary's Little Donkey. I put it in a red binder last year with Christmas things.

This Inner Christmas is Lynn's gift to the world. It's free. The guide too. Click here to sign up and enjoy. I find that work with Lynn is so satisfying in such a gentle way. It helps me expand my view of things and helps me digest events of my life in a very nourishing way. It also inspires me to do new things and take risks. I am so grateful for this gift. Thanks Lynn!

A Very Merry Christmas to all of you who celebrate!


Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Gift of Light

The gift of light I thankfully hold
And pass to my neighbor its shining gold
That everyone may feel its glow,
    Receiving and giving may love and grow.

I pass this gift of light to you Dear Jen at Ancient Hearth. Thank you for the light and warmth you bring to the world. I am grateful for your presence in my life.
Pass the gift of light  to a cyber neighbor who lights your world until the world is aglow with a circle of light.

This verse can be used with children passing the light around a circle.

Pass the light on and let's see how broad a circle it can make.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Snow, snow, snow!
From heaven falls the snow.

The children now have lots of fun
It's snowing, snowing on and on.

Snow, snow, snow!
Hey-o!  hey-o!  hey-o!

Snow, snow, snow!
Hey-o!  hey-o!  hey-o!

 From The Snow Hayoh! in Gesture Games for Autumn and Winter from Wilma Ellersiek, 
translated by Lyn and Kundry Wilwerth

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Marsha Johnson's Reminder

The Issue of Toys, Children, and Materialism

By Mrs. M, also known as Marsha Johnson, December 2004
~ re-printed with permission

Shopping bags and baskets full, parents and family friends arriving with parcels, long store lines, and big dollar prices………birthdays, holidays, other occasions both secular and religious, family rooms, play rooms, bedrooms, living rooms, filled with play items, bright colors, plastics, woods, cloth, books, and more…………is there room for the child?  Where is the child?  In late fall, these questions start to present themselves to even the most unconscious person as we strive to find the ‘perfect’ addition to an entire house filled with personal items…….as well as strive to come up with a wish list for ourselves.  This year, I notice the most advertised item is a S’more cooker!  If only we could just package the happy feelings that we experience when gathered around a cozy campfire, in the woods, while toasting food on a stick!  This is what the manufacturer knows will sell his silly little invention:  he is selling memories.

Burdened with possessions from before birth, we stumble along this treacherous pathway at holidays, driven by commercial interests, lists of best sellers (if other people bought it, it must be good), and short lived desires stimulated by visual, auditory, and olfactory images.  Artistic and historical pictures of holidays always include the scene where wrappings are torn off and cries of joy fill the room as each receives exactly the right gift.  Does this sound familiar to you?

I distinctly recall a holiday when our oldest son was two years old, and in his stocking, he discovered a tiny metal truck and a tiny yellow metal bulldozer.  At that point, his holiday was complete and he was not interested in any other gaily wrapped packages or presents except one large cardboard box left over from some item that he played with for weeks.  Did this wake us up a bit?  Well, frankly, not enough.  Our family cultural background, our own perceptions of the ‘ideal’ holiday scene, and an inability to resist commercial pressures and peer pressures, drove us on the mad buying road for quite a few years to come.

Then, when studying anthroposophy, Waldorf education, and in teacher training, I began to perceive another more sinister aspect to the whole scenario.  Facing the conscious human being on this planet are two primary foes: beautiful evil Lucifer, who tempts us with his garden of wickedness and false promises of divine status, and ugly, hard Ahriman, who pulls at our material and commercial roots with sober glee.  We tread this delicate path each moment, and it seems that their influence increases geometrically at major holiday times.  We smother our children under a plethora of physical goods!  Asthma is rising rapidly in our world and it is not wonder that we cannot breathe freely under the weight of our possessions.

Reading through a stack of books on child development, from ones generated out of Waldorf education to just about every other approach, there is indeed a common theme.  Children should be surrounded by a few multi-purpose, open-ended items that encourage imaginative play, social interaction, and healthy bodily movement.  Young children need to be interactive with the physical world in a direct sense, stomach or back to the earth, although a blanket, skin, or floor may lie between.  The urge to rise must be allowed to flourish independently in the infant human being, and nearly all children do indeed push themselves away from the horizontal and ascend to a vertical stance.  The miracles of scooting, crawling, standing, cruising, and walking need no artificial assisters such as walkers, jumpers, or swings. 

Nearly all of the most popular toy items do not meet the 3 basic criteria listed above:  hard plastic items are too formed to be open-ended, they must adhere to their pre-conceived shape and form.  They feel dead to the touch and are non responsive to the mood of the child.  You can see this disdain in the actions of the children who play with plastic items as they throw them around rooms, kick them, leave them outside in the yard, litter them everywhere and have trouble cleaning them up.  Parents literally have garbage can sized containers into which all these plastic goodies are shoveled and rarely sorted.  Landfills are overwhelmed with plastic debris and it requires thousands of years to decompose.  Plastic also use valuable petroleum resources and is filled with toxins for the most part.  Does this discourage us?  I wonder. Stroll without your child down a toy store items and simply look for plastic.  It is unavoidable.

Open ended items are simple, often made of natural materials such as wool, wood, metal, or cloth.  Undefined or lightly defined toys allow children to use them in a multitude of ways.  A new playmate brings new ideas for logs, scarves, blocks, and playhouses.  Endless games with ropes, sticks, and simple tools will result during afternoons with friends.  Finding toys that work with social settings as well as all-alone times is a key factor for parents. Creating and combining personal play areas of family play areas is important and requires some consideration.  Clearly, adults need space for adult activities and babies need to be protected from dangerous items.  It might be helpful to sit down and think over your home, your room assignments, notice where your family gathers, do children actually play in the bedroom?  Or do they bring all their play items into the kitchen, the living room, or family room, where the parents tend to be? 

Social interactions can begin for children at about age 3 or 4, when they can start to actually ‘play with’ another child instead of ‘play near’ someone else.  The child in the 3rd year begins to use the word “I” to designate self, and this is a critical consciousness step in development.  When we use the word “I”, we experience an inner feeling of our free selves, our free will, our own being, our souls and spirits.  We are unique and can express this wonderful word that only we can use for ourselves (no-one else can call us I).  Before this time, parents notice that children are exploring their surroundings with interest, imitating the actions of their parents or caregivers, perhaps using the broom to sweep the floor.  Babies under 1 year are observers and listeners as they move their limbs and learn to manipulate their small physical bodies in that all encompassing drive to rise.  Their social encounters are based on human interactions, facial expressions, and echoing or mimicking what they see.  Have you ever been about a baby about 9 months old who literally stares at your face until you make eye contact?  Serious hopeful expression transforms into a beautiful body-wide smile!  What a wonderful feeling!

Body movement is critical to healthy brain development and according to every study in the world, video and computer activities are contributing to an unprecedented decline in child physical heath.  Running, skipping, dancing, moving, climbing, chasing, and hopping are on the decline!  Teachers see children in the grades who have great challenges with basic balance skills such as walking a straight line.  What to do?  Parents are often exhausted in their own work, and insert the video into the machine to escape into solitude for 90 minutes while the child is occupied.  Our families are often so isolated from one another that there is no respite or very little.  I know a child who is 18 months old who can turn on tv and video player, insert and remove the movie, and operate the remote control. 

Relatives of families who are trying to find a different path often fall into a situation where they create conflict with gifts of commercial plastic or media items.  The common culture is such that refusing such gifts often induces arguments and antipathy.  Children of these families are sometimes then over-exposed to these influences during visits or vacations, when grandparents can follow their own beliefs and stuff children with nitrite laced hot dogs and movies.  Has this happened to you?  It can be a very difficult emotional experience for the adult children of baby boomer generation grandparents, born in the 40s and 50s, which was also the birth of the plastic toy industry.  I recall wishing for the Mr. Potato Head Toy that came with nose, ears, mouth, etc. that were to be pushing into a real potato.  The innocent (?) beginnings of a world wide lifelong addition to the acquisition of things that have very little significant purpose or meaning.  And most of us do not even realize that we have been registered in this senseless buying club for life.

Families who are seeking a different way of providing toy items and play spaces for their children must be willing to undergo some conflicted feelings and pressures.  In addition, parents must be able to agree to adopting a new approach and support one another:  it is not uncommon to find one parent wishing to be dedicated to a less materialistic lifestyle while the other one is sneaking the Gameboy into the stocking. 


If you are not a parent yet, good, you can skip the rest of the this paragraph and go on to the section for specific recommendations for children by ages.  If you have children already, then you must make some tough decisions.  Here is one method that works well and it gentle in its approach.  If you follow this advice, you will find that in about 1 year, your home will be free of all commercial/materialistic toy burdens, you will feel lighter and more in tune with nature and the seasons, and your family time will be enhanced and enjoyable with the need to spend hours organizing and cleaning up after your children and yourself.

First, have a private discussion with spouse and come to agreement.  This is critical and this program will not work unless this has been completed.  Then examine your home and its contents.  Go into your child’s room and count how many items are in that space.  Include clothing, shoes, and coats.  Count aloud and be amazed.  How can one being be surrounded by so many physical things?  Notice how many images or hanging items are on the walls, how many things hang in windows, etc.  Do the same activity with your play room or family room where toys are kept.  Look into the movie cupboard and notice how many boxes or cases.  Count how many TVs are in your home.  How many music CDs?  Where are these items kept? Peek into the attic, the basement, the garage, the kitchen cupboards, the laundry room, the sheet storage, the towel closet, obtain a good impression of how many items there in your home.

Take a break and have a cup of tea.  In a day or two, send the children over to play at a friend’s home.  Strengthen yourself with prayer and go into your play spaces and remove about one third of the toys not on the list below.  Put into large black storage bags and drive over to someone else’s home or garage.  (No temptation to retrieve and after 3 months, you can given them to charity).  Include books, posters, stuff, even expensive stuff.  This first foray is the hardest and you can select items that you know your child rarely plays with.  Try to include mostly plastic junky items that will never be missed.  Include stuffed animals that are sitting, lonely, and plastic dolls that lie heaped in the corner.  Sentimental items like grandma’s doll clothes should be kept, there is love in the stitches that cannot be replaced.

If you are really strong and on a roll, you can do this for other areas of the home and include the clothing drawers:  children do NOT need walk-in closets, this accumulation of 24 pairs of shoes is both confusing and ridiculous and I am old enough to remember when children under 3 wore white baby shoes (1 pair) which we polished.  Do your kitchen (who need 4 tablespoon measurers?) and your own closet.  Donate your items to charities and store if you must.

If children notice something is gone, if under six, distract them with a play idea, or tell a little story about a bunny who had so many things she couldn’t sleep in her cozy bunny hole.  Leave it at that if possible.  Children six and older may need to know that the family is making some changes that are healthy for everyone and that is probably enough.  If you try this on older children, you will need their cooperation. 

In about three months, do this again.  In the meantime, begin adding to the store of items listed below.  Slowly replace various toys with substitutes that meet the three criteria of being open-ended, socially healthy, and encourage body movement.  If you continue this pathway for a year, that will give your four opportunities to reduce, diminish, refocus, alter, redefine, and re-direct your child’s play environment, sleep environment, and living environment.

In your organization, create specific areas of particular play items:  outdoors for certain pursuits, an art space with paints, crayons, brushes, pastels, paper, and more, a reading/book area to share, and a game playing space.  These spaces can share your dining room or family room.  Bedrooms are for sleeping and keeping clothing in, maybe 1 special stuffed animal friend, or 1 doll cradle.  When a child is sent to clean their room, it means change the sheets, sweep the floor, wash the window, and take care of shoes and clothing.  How many times do we confuse cleaning with picking up?


1)   Remove all TVs from home if possible with young children and middle aged children and teenagers.  You will not regret this decision.

2)   If not possible, keep one and put in closet that locks or some space inaccessible to family members without a lot of work.

3)  Obviously same with all video equipment….dvd players

4)   Remove all computer games from computer and put cds in a box and hide them in a closet.
Computers are for ‘working’, writing, communicating.  If you play games, do it only after kids are in bed.

5)  Ask or persuade friends and family to switch from giving more toys and clothes to a) buying items you request, b) gift certificates to particular catalogs (Magic Cabin, Chinaberry Books), or c) put the money they would have spent into certificates of deposit for future educational expense (tuition is a big issue for the future) or d) be willing to substitute time together for physical items.  Come over for dinner and stay for a games night, go out for a walk in a bird reserve, take a trip to the beach, cook a family recipe together……beg, plead, and insist.  They will adopt your methods, slowly. 

6)  If child receives an unexpected objectionable item, be gracious and enjoy it for a while, then ‘disappear’ it magically.  Time is a great healer.

7)  Frequently visit other families who are like minded to encourage yourself and find support.  You will find that all the children in the neighborhood will want to hang out at your house!  Bring them in and teach their parents.

8)  Take the money you save and enjoy a fantastic family camping trip or vacation.  You will literally save thousands and thousands of dollars over the 18 years of your child’s life.

9) Examine wardrobes and put together fourteen outfits for your children, enough for 2 weeks without laundry, for each season, and donate the rest.  Buy good quality wool, cotton, and natural fiber clothes that will last through several children, practice the fine art of hand me downs, and gather a group of other families to have a twice a year ‘share’ time where you all bring extra clothes and parcel them out.  You will be shocked at how this is so very freeing although you  will spend a bit more time doing laundry on your new schedule. 

10)  Begin a rhythm in your household that includes all members in a reasonable cycle of chores that includes and shares out cooking, cleaning, washing, and gardening.  Spend your time together with purpose as opposed to trying to get a few chores ‘done’ while everyone else sits in front of a screen.  Laundry day can be a good social time to visit over sock matching, laundry line hanging, and there is nothing that can beat (Sorry commercial artificial laundry scent manufacturers) the smell of wind-dried sheets on summer days. Avoid using machines for your household work, study up on how to make your own healthy cleaners, and treasure old towels for wonderfully soft rags.  Step away from silly products that promise to somehow make your life easier that actually are simply substitutes for old fashioned, tried and true methods.  

11)  Get together with a couple other families and form a study group to enjoy dinner together once a month and talk about parenting, read new books, enjoy community, and share ideas. Insist that gift giving occasions be primarily social events, outdoor adventures, nature immersed, and intentionally diminish or reduce the time of ‘gifting’ in your life.  Try an ‘exchange’ habit, instead, or take a class and learn how to make something useful, for example, learn to carve wooden spoons and give these as gifts.  Simple and very helpful and useful.  Do not overdo it and give dozens!  Avoid the consumption addiction in all respects.


INFANTS UNDER 1 YEAR: (Secret!  Children under 1 year old do not need ANY toys!  None at all.  They need humans and something to suck and chew on, like their fingers and toes. But if you must….)

            Wooden chew toy/rattle (1)
            Soft ball (size of an adult fist)
            2-3 silks to play peek a boo
            1 soft cottony type stuffed thing to chew on, can be animal or shape
            A special snuggly blanket for bed time
            A nature table to observe

            The above items plus……..
            A set of wooden blocks (can be made by hand, or tree limbs that are smooth and splinter free, cut into rounds and sanded)
            1 soft doll, no features, stuffed with wool, with doll cradle and blanket
            Several soft balls
            Baskets of smooth sticks, shells, nuts in the shell, stones
            Stacking toys (there are wooden ones that are nice)
            Small truck or car
            Basket of silks, six or eight, in large squares for playing and dress up
            3 stick crayons in red, yellow, blue and some sturdy paper for coloring
            6 small board books, classics
            1 nice picture on the wall
            1 nice hanging hand made mobile

            Same as above
            Plus dress up capes and crowns
            Stick horse is nice, jump rope
            Play areas for pretend kitchen, pretend laundry area
            Digging tools for the garden, seeds
            Board games (2-3 at one time)
            Crayons in eight colors
            Water color paints in 3 colors (red, yellow, blue)
            Beeswax for modeling, sewing kit with big needle
            Playstands for creating homes, forts, pirate ships
            Simply music instruments are nice: rattles, bells
            Outdoor riding toys are enjoyed
            Wagons, swings, ropes, small logs outside
            1 doll with legs and arms, clothes for the doll
            Small animals for playing, wooden shapes are nice
            Often a small playhouse with furniture, all wood
            Or a barn with horses, stalls, fences, etc. of wood
            No more than 2 dozen books on shelf for a few months
            Candle next to bed for lighting and night time song and story

            Cards, dice
            Board games for the age: checkers, chess, cribbage
            Collectables (big age for starting collections)
            Kits for building, tool sets that are real tools
            Wood carving with supervision
            Sewing kits
            Knitting kits, wool, crochet sets and patterns
            More paints, include pastels, chalk
            Blackboard is nice for wall with chalk
            Sport equipment as your family enjoys
            Treasure box for rock collection
            Often a more complex doll
            Roller Skates, or blades
            Bird watching kits, books
            Excursions:  Take them places!
            Books on a shelf, family books, carefully selected for content
            Binoculars, telescope, microscope
            Magnifying glasses
            Items that your child really desires and will take care of………

This is a only a partial list and I am sure more can be added as you think of your family and their needs.  As time passes, the children will become more independent and the parental guidance loosens quite a bit.  If we can help our children perceive that we can escape from the commercial/material treadmill that keeps so many sad captive people enslaved to both earning the money to purchase items and time sacrificed to maintain them, we are doing a good deed for the world and the future.  I welcome your responses.

Marsha Johnson           

Marsha Johnson has an excellent yahoo group for Waldorf Homeschoolers. You can find it here.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Santa Lucia Day ~ December 13

Santa Lucia is another Festival of Light, in the Waldorf Calendar of Festivals, celebrated on December 13, which was, under the Julian calendar, the Winter Solstice. Hence, the saying:

Lucy light
The shortest day and
The longest night

I had a dream when I was in my twenties of being inside a large, boxy house with a large center staircase. The house was uncomfortably dark. I heard a voice say "Lucia." I was undertaking Jungian work at the time so I delved wholeheartedly into this mysterious Lucia and learned about the Saint who brought light in dark times, who nourished the hungry, who gave all she had and endured much torture for her faith. Her crown of candles lit the way through dark tunnels to bring food to the starving and she crossed a lake to bring food to the hungry who had none, according to lore. She is loved and celebrated by Italians, Scandanavians, Waldorfians and others. More here and here.

Many years later, on a remote island in the South Pacific, I had the good fortune to experience the celebration of Santa Lucia, thanks to a Swedish friend and her family. Later, upon returning to this country and joining a Waldorf community, I heard the children sing the Santa Lucia song. It resonated deeply within. I grew up Catholic and love to find images of the sacred in the feminine. I looked forward to the day when my children would experience Santa Lucia . My second grader is now homeschooling and we are celebrationg at home in these ways:

1. Singing ~ The Santa Lucia song is sung here in Swedish, sheet music here.
The Neapolitan verion is here sung by Enrico Caruso.

You can watch a Santa Lucia procession here.

Santa Lucia, Thy light is glowing
All through the darkest night, comfort bestowing
Dreams float on wings of night,
Comes then the morning light
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

Through silent winter gloom, Thy song comes winging to
Waken the Earth anew, Glad carols bringing,
Come thou, oh queeen of Night,
Wearing thy crown so bright,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

Santa Lucia, Christmas foretelling,
Fill hearts with hope and cheer, Dark fear dispelling,
Bring to the world's call,
Peace and goodwill to all,
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia

2. Baking ~ This year, I am spluging on saffron to make Lussekattor or Lucy Buns, a sweet dough with almonds and cardomom. Here is a recipe. Other Santa Lucia baking includes Santa Lucia Ring and Swedish Ginger cookies , some of which are heart shaped and spicy.

3. Decorating ~ Since we are a family with boys, we are making Star boys caps and Star wands, go to this site and scroll down to see a picture of boys with Star boy caps and wands.

4. Story ~ This is a tough one, for the stories of Santa Lucia are gruesome, of tourture, eye gouging and decapitation. She was a matyr, no doubt. So I wrote this simple story:

Once upon a time, over the mountains and sea in a far away land by a lake, there lived a young girl and her mother and father. They were well off and quite comfortable in their means. Lucia's days were filled with skipping and tree climbing and playing with her friends. Lucia helped her mother and was kind to all. One day she came upon a bully and saw that he was hungry. She gave him her warm wool cloak that her mother made for her and he stopped bullying. To the little girl that had holes in her shoes, she gave her own well made shoes. When ever she saw someone in need, she helped them, often giving of herself to do so.

Times were hard for some with not enough food to eat. Across the lake, there was a village full of hungry people. When Lucia heard of this she prayed for help. One night in her dreams a boat came to her which only she could see. She gathered food from her family's stores and loaded into the ship. The night was dark. She cast off from shore in her little boat and headed across the lake. The waters were rough as she sailed across and she took care to be sure the food was secured in the bottom of the boat.

Across the lake fishermen were casting their nets for fish. The children were asleep in their beds with growling hunger. The fishermen looked up and saw the sky clear and the stars begin to shine. In the center of the lake, they saw lights on the crown of Lucia.

Lucia arrived safely ashore and delivered the baskets of grain, oranges, dates, figs and almonds. The fishermen helped her and thanked her. She rested for a short while and sailed back to her bed where she slept soundly through the rest of the night.

5. Drawing ~ We are drawing Santa Lucia with her crown of candles and may foray into pictures of Star Boys as well. I am using the shapes of Saint Lucy Bun for form drawing.

6. The Curriculum ~ See Santa Lucia's day incorporated into homeschooling over at Tattooed Soccer Mom (formerly One Hook Wonder) here

Bright Blessings on you and yours!

Eat :: Sleep :: Play :: Love 
~ in the fresh air!

Celebrate the Rhythm of Life ~ a living curriculum program
Harmonious Rhythms ::  Parenting with Soul :: Waldorf Homeschooling

Friday, December 10, 2010

Rudolf Steiner on Christmas

An excerpt from Rudolf Steiner's Lecture in the Rudolf Steiner Archives

The Christmas Festival: A Token of the Victory of the Sun

Berlin, 24th December, 1905

"Christmas is not a Festival of Christendom only. In ancient Egypt, in the regions we ourselves inhabit, and in Asia thousands and thousands of years before the Christian era we find that a Festival was celebrated on the days now dedicated to the celebration of the birth of Christ.

Now what was the character of this Festival which since time immemorial has been celebrated all over the world on the same days of the year? Wonderful Fire Festivals in the northern and central regions of Europe in ancient times were celebrated among the Celts in Scandinavia, Scotland and England by their priests, the Druids. What were they celebrating? They were celebrating the time when winter draws to its close and spring begins. It is quite true that Christmas falls while it is still winter, but Nature is already heralding a victory which can be a token of hope in anticipation of the victory that will come in spring — a token of confidence, of hope, of faith — to use words which are connected in nearly every language with the Festival of Christmas. There is confidence that the Sun, again in the ascendant, will be victorious over the opposing powers of Nature. The days draw in and draw in, and this shortening of the days seems to us to be an expression of the dying, or rather of the falling asleep of the Nature-forces. The days grow shorter and shorter up to the time when we celebrate the Christmas Festival and when our forefathers also celebrated it, in another form. Then the days begin to draw out again and the light of the Sun celebrates its victory over the darkness. In our age of materialistic thinking this is an event to which we no longer give much consideration.

In olden times it seemed to men in whom living feeling was united with wisdom, to be an expression of an experience of the Godhead Himself, the Godhead by Whom their lives were guided. The solstice was a personal experience of a higher being — as personal an experience as when some momentous event forces a man to come to a vital decision. And it was even more than this. The waxing and waning of the days was not only an expression of an event in the life of a higher Being, but a token of something greater still, of something momentous and unique.

This brings us to the true meaning of Christmas as a Festival of the very highest order in cosmic and human life. In the days when genuine occult teaching was not disowned as it is today by materialistic thought but was the very wellspring of the life of the peoples, the Christmas Festival was a kind of memorial, a token of remembrance of a great happening on the Earth. At the hour of midnight the priests gathered around them their truest disciples, those who were the teachers of the people, and spoke to them of a great Mystery. (I am not telling you anything that has been cleverly thought out or discovered by a process of abstract deduction but was actually experienced in the Mysteries, in the secret Sanctuaries of those remote times). This Mystery was connected with the victory of the Sun over the darkness. There was a time on the Earth when the light triumphed over the darkness. And it happened thus: in that epoch, all physical, all bodily life on Earth had reached the stage of animality only. The highest kingdom upon the Earth had only reached a stage at which it was preparing to receive something higher. And then there came that great moment in evolution when the immortal, imperishable soul of man descended. Life had so far developed that the human body was able to receive into itself the imperishable soul. These ancestors of the human race stood higher in the scale of evolution than modern scientists believe, but the higher part of their being, the divine ‘spark’ was not yet within them. The divine spark descended from a higher planetary sphere to our Earth which was now to become the scene of its activity, the dwelling-place of the soul which henceforward can never be lost to us......"

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Little Pine Tree

~ Adapted from a German Legend

Once upon a time, in the deep forest, there grew a little pine tree, and its leaves were long, slender, green needles. But the little tree did not like its needles.

"I wish that I had beautiful leaves," it thought. "I wish that I might have leaves different from any of the other trees. If I could have my wish, I would have leaves all of shining gold."

After a while it came night, and the little tree went to sleep, and the Angel of the trees walked through the woods. In the morning the little tree had leaves of shining gold.

"How very beautiful I am!" it thought. "How my leaves sparkle in the sun! Now I shall always be happy!

In the night a man came to the woods with a bag. He picked off all the gold leaves, and took them home with him. Then the poor little tree had no leaves. "What shall I do?" it cried. "I will not wish for gold leaves again."

"How pretty crystal leaves would look! They would sparkle in the sun, but the man would not take them. I wish that I could have leaves of gleaming crystal."

That night Jack Frost appeared in the woods with his crystal wand and touched the tree. In the morning, when the sun peeped over the hill it looked at the little pine tree. All the other trees looked at it, too.

How beautiful it was! It had crystal leaves now, and they sparkled in the bright sunshine. The little tree was happy all the morning. But in the afternoon black clouds hid the sun, and the rain came down. The tree shivered in the wind.

When the shower was over, there were no crystal leaves to sparkle in the sunshine. The sun had melted every one, and the drops lay on the ground under the bare branches.

"I will not wish again to be better than my neighbors," cried the pine tree.

"If I had big green leaves like them I should be happy." Then the tree went to sleep, and once more the Angel of the trees walked through the woods. When it was morning the pine looked just like the other trees, for it had fine, large green leaves.

But the big leaves looked so good and juicy that an old goat came along, and he ate every one for his dinner.

"Alas!" cried the little tree. "A man took my leaves of gold. The wind broke my leaves of glass. A goat ate my large green leaves.

"I wish that I had my long, green needles again!"

The Angel of the trees was listening to all that the little pine tree said. The next day the birds flew to the little tree, and they were happy to see that it was covered again with long needles.

"Now, we may build our nests here," they said.

"Yes," said the tree. "I will hide your nests with my needles, and in the winter I will keep you safe and warm.

"Gold leaves, crystal leaves, and large green leaves were very fine; but nothing is so good for a little pine tree as its own long needles."


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Days of December, Meaningful List

I am so inspired by the lists that Brooke posted over at Brooke: confessions of an urban earth mama for the days of December, that I am going to start my own list. Have a look at Brooke's blog. The list ideas is meaningful, sane and fun.
Thank you Brooke.

Monday, December 6, 2010

The Meaningful in the Holy Days

Today I am delighted to share a guest piece from Danielle Epiphani on how she brings meaning to the season.

For us it's really a season from Michaelmas to Epiphany. Lot's of time that way.

I was not familiar with Advent before being introduced to Waldorf. Fortunately, that was when my son was 1 year old and early on was able to put into practice traditions that kept ours (and my life), sane. I love the anticipation of the season and having the time to build slowly, meditating each week. and adding elements to the home.

Christmas Eve is when we put up our tree and then Christmas lasts for 12 days. In this way we have time to make gifts, deliver them, see friends whom we couldn't see leading up to Christmas. Instead we get to take in special shows or events, read stories, sing and stay out of the loop of commercial madness.

Here in California one of my favorite shows is The Christmas Revels, and of course the Winter Spiral events.

Sometimes on the eve of St Nicholas we are his 'helper' and drive around or go to neighbors' homes. When the season is spread out this way, we have lots of time to enjoy it. It is bittersweet on the eve of the 12th night, to sing all of our last carols.

Sometimes too we prepare a big feast with prime rib and invite friends to do a 3 Kings Play. It is a joy to celebrate Epiphany in this way and has made Christmas a much richer Holiday than what I could've imagined.

During Advent I hunker down with wonderful books- my favorite is Christmas Roses- Legends for Advent by Selma Lagerlof. Probably best suited for children ages 6/7+, and so meaningful to me.


Danielle is the mother of an eleven-year-old son, a Waldorf Early Childhood educator, and a parenting mentor. She is an Art Historian, antique dealer, and graduate from UC Berkeley. She is the Director of Margaret’s Garden, a mixed-age Waldorf, and Lifeways inspired home program in Berkeley, CA, and a graduate from the Bay Area Center For Waldorf Teacher Training in San Rafael, CA. Her work can be accessed on the web at Elemental Mother and on Facebook.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Keeping the Holidays Sane, Meaningful and Fun!

This post is the first in a series on our seasonal or festival life that begins with Thanksgiving (in the United States) and ends with Epiphany or Three Kings Day in January, sort of...

Days we celebrate include:


Advent ~ began Sunday November 29

Saint Nicholas Day ~ December 6

Santa Lucia Day ~ December 13

Christmas Eve

Christmas Day

The Twelve Days of Christmas

Epiphany or Three Kings Day

What a great number of days to celebrate. How do we keep it sane, meaningful and fun for the children and for ourselves? These are a few tips I have picked up over the years that have made our life more simple and meaningful at the holidays:

Stay Home
  • If you have children under the age of ten, stay home, let others come to you.
  • Consider requesting or giving gifts that can make a difference and ease financial pressure on a family: a tank of heating oil, an insurance premium payment, a tuition payment
  • Consider gifts of service: babysitting, snow shovelling, errand running
  • Consider a gift of one big thing, is there something really special your child has been longing for, a season's ski pass? ski school? a kayak? a pair of play stands you want for your child?
  • Consider gifts made in the name of the recipient to a charity: Heifer International, Oxfam, Knitting 
  • Consider gift certificates for lunch, driving, chores, back rubs, walks, a list of books to enjoy with a trip to the library, cleaning up a room, re-organizing a closet

Serve Others
  • Consider volunteering at the local soup kitchen, volunteers and meals are usually welcomed
  • Consider Christmas carolling at a local home for the elderly
  • Consider helping at a Ronald McDonald house or Ronald McDonald room at the local hospital
  • Is there a mom with a newborn preemie who needs clothes for her tiny baby and has no support?

Create a time out of time
  • Make it a season that lasts forty days. Let this season be a time of spaciousness. Spread the festivities, activities and get togethers over forty days. Festival life has it origins in days where people took time to rest, gather together, sing songs, tell stories and prepare special foods.
Make two lists
  • First the " I should" list all things we heap on ourselves to do, to say, to be, then release them, tear them up, burn them, let go of them. 
  • Then make the " I want" list. How do you envision the holidays? What makes meaning for you? What is realistic? One special moment together, truly present with our children is worth more than lots of hurried, harried events. How can you bring stillness, look inward and set the mood for your children?
Danielle Epiphany has a lovely piece sharing her insight on this topic here.

My next post will be on the Meaningful. What do you like about the holidays for children? What do you remember from the holidays and your childhood? What traditions do you wish to continue? What do you wish to create?

Until then, Bright Blessings!
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