Getting started with Family Festivals
Just as we work with daily and weekly rhythms to help the children feel secure and comfortable in the world, we can work with the larger rhythms of the year. It is important to adjust things in response to the changing seasons—longer, looser days in the summer, more structure, earlier bedtimes in the winter. And just as I’ll mark transitions during our daily rhythm with a song or a verse, we as a culture have learned to mark transitions during the rhythm of the year with festivals. These regular, seasonal festivals are powerful for children and help them to feel at home in the universal family of humanity and our planetary ecosystems.
It’s a fact of modern life that many of us are living far removed from our ancestral heritage, from the indigenous traditions that kept us in touch with these natural rhythms in centuries past. Still, bits of these traditions have wormed their ways into popular culture, and many more of them are available to those who search. It is us to us to find ways to re-integrate and re-create festivals that feel powerful and true to our ancient humanity and modern realities. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
If you were raised with a strong festival life, think about the parts of it that still speak to you that you want to carry onward. Did you love lighting candles and singing with your whole community on Christmas Eve, but hate other parts of going to church? Find a way to have a singing and candle lighting ceremony around that time of year with your family, or even open it up to your extended community. As someone of European descent living in America, I like to turn to the traditions of pre-Christian Europe for my own festival life, and to research and appreciate and participate in the traditions of people from other backgrounds when invited.
As you’re creating a festival rhythm, start small and keep track of what you’ve done. The more you work with this the more ideas you’ll come up with, so chose carefully and keep things consistent from year-to-year. Find an organization or place or group of people that holds festivals you like, or is interested in creating some with you. Schools are a great place for this, especially Waldorf schools, as we lovingly create large, community festivals for just this purpose. But it’s also lovely to do a little something just at home, just for your family.
elements of a festival
Food is one of the most intimate ways we can connect with the earth. Eating seasonal, traditional foods is a big way of marking festivals, especially for children. If you’re creating a new tradition, look at what the earth is producing that time of year—squash and root vegetables in autumn, greens and eggs and cream in spring, naturally preserved foods and root cellar staples in the winter.
Music marks time. We know how powerful it can be because of how angry people can get if you start playing Christmas music outside of December. Find little songs that feel seasonal to you, and integrate them into your festivals. (Some resources below!)
Think about the feeling or gesture you’re trying to evoke, and find an activity that holds that feeling. In the dark of winter we often light candles to remind us of our inner light, and light them in community to remind us of it’s power. In the bright ecstasy of spring we make things out of rainbow colors, dance, and work with flowers. Find something, however small, that you can do with reverence and intention.
When finding songs for festivals I often work with the Wystones series—they have one for each of the 4 seasons we experience in this part of the world. All the Year Round is full of bigger ideas for festivals and celebrations and lots of simple, beautiful crafts to share with the children. Both of these selections are lovely, and include general, nature-based seasonal songs and ideas as well as some inspired by religious holidays.