The Waldorf School of Baltimore’s rich festival life connects our community with cultures the world over, by celebrating seasonal rhythms, important moments in history, and spiritual traditions. Families at WSB celebrate December’s season of long nights by bringing warmth and light through rich and reverent celebrations.
Traditionally, our school community gathers in joy and peace for the lighting of Advent, Kwanzaa, Chanukah and other traditional celebration candles at the Festival of Lights. This year, yet again, nothing is as traditional as it once was. Not wanting to see those wonderful stories sitting on the shelves due to COVID concerns, WSB’s wonderful Parents Association assisted in putting out the call for parents and staff to share their family’s special Winter light and holiday traditions with the greater community.
Sharing our stories with one another creates connections and changes perceptions. As the late, great Bell Hooks said “Beloved community is formed not by the eradication of difference but by its affirmation, by each of us claiming the identities and cultural legacies that shape who we are and how we live in the world.” Celebrating our diverse traditions creates connections, changes perceptions and reinforces identity. The responses gifted to us below are a beautiful illustration of the tapestry of cultures within our school - while underscoring also shared values of goodness, truth and beauty.
Each winter, our family rolls warm and soft and yummy-smelling squares of beeswax into tall candles. We light and enjoy them at our dinner table and meditation spaces and give them as gifts. The beautiful glow of our candles helps us focus our minds on the gifts of the present moment and feel gratitude, an important part of our family's Buddhist practice. We also decorate a Christmas tree with tiny colorful lights that make us merry!
In our family, we look forward to honoring the Winter Solstice. On that shortest day and longest night, we venture to a sacred place to release with joy the past year and welcome the new year to come. Near sunset, we go to the beach, barren and desolate, all sand, shell, stone, and bone. We are always in New Jersey for the winter holidays, and for most of the summer, when we spend our days on the hot sand and in the fresh ocean water, people all around basking in the light and heat. But in December, no one else is there. Bundled up, we run, sing, laugh, yell, chase, turn cartwheels, and run to the lapping water's edge as the teeming vastness of the ocean lies before us. No green to be seen, the metallic shimmer of the waves propels our merry jubilation. We play until the sun sets on that shortest day, and we cheer with applause at the moment the sun is gone. We watch the clouds turn dark, our bodies warm from the exuberant goodbye we've given to the year. We go home, drink warm tea by candlelight, and celebrate the birth of the new year, all hope, promise, and light ahead of us.
Christmas traditions in my house begin with Advent and the daily lighting of our advent wreath at dinner. On the eve of December 6th, St. Nicholas fills our shoes with a clementine, some chocolates, and cookies.
On Christmas Eve, for many years when COVID did not play a role, we traveled to PA to visit my parents arriving just in time for some of us to see the Shepherd’s Play (a nativity play) performed by the staff of my parents’ school community and others to stay back in the kitchen and cook. At the end of the play, a child would light a lantern from the candle-lit community Christmas tree decorated with roses and apples. They would carry that lantern through the very dark Pennsylvania woods back to Grandma’s house to light our own candlelit tree.
My siblings and their families- I’m one of 5, would squeeze into my parents’ cozy country house and cook dinner- usually featuring fish. We were usually around 16 people. During dinner, there would be a knock at the door, and Mary, Joseph, and an angel- characters from the play would come and sing Silent Night. Some singing and gift exchanges in the evening, a few brave souls walking to midnight service, all the cousins squeezing into a few rooms upstairs filling up the beds and mattresses on the floors, and at some point the stockings were miraculously filled.
On Christmas morning community brunch was held at a large house in the community. There would always be a few familiar faces and many new ones- people from all over the world who had come to Beaver Run to work with children with special needs. The Wolf Family Band (my dad’s dream come true) would strike up in the living room as we brushed off the dust from our instruments and played loads of carols.
Back to Grandma’s house, a tree lighting, some present giving and socializing, board games, crafts, perhaps a winter walk, and soon it would be time to return to Baltimore. Last year was different- no travel, no extended family, and a play reading & church on ZOOM and Christmas in PJs. This year will be different too- a second Christmas in Baltimore, traditions to be determined.
During the eight nights of Chanukah, in the darkest time of sun and moon, our family lights candles in our Chanukah and says the blessings over the lighting to celebrate the miracle of survival as a people, against all odds. We sing Chanukah songs, fry latkes and sufganiyot in olive oil, play dreidel, and strive to resist the materialism that threatens to consume the holiness of this time.
The Winter Solstice may be the darkest day of the year, but it’s also the day that we turn to face the light. It is a sacred portal--from here, the arc of the day expands once again as we move through the cycles and rhythms of the seasons. Similar to the Winter Spiral that I was fortunate to experience here last week, at this time of year I use the flame of a candle to connect with the Inner light that shines, blazing, out into the world. This year, I will be facilitating a small Solstice ceremony at a gallery in Brooklyn, NY, where I currently have a solo exhibition of my weavings. We will use candle light, synthesizers, and our voices to meditate together and make contact with that bright inner flame.
Would you like to learn more about the rich festival life and wonderfully active community present within the Waldorf School of Baltimore? Please email Ilene Wise, firstname.lastname@example.org and get to know an education as unique as your child.