The Lantern Festivals

Oct 27, 2022 | At Home, Festivals, Seasonal

by Ami Evergreen | Pedagogical Administrator, Nursery-Grade 8

Each little child will bring the light,
‘til all the world is warm and bright.

In many countries the Festivals of Light begin when our days grow short and nights grow long. In North America we first experience the cheery Jack-O-Lantern at Halloween, illuminating the night for a band of wandering cowboys, clowns, pirates, and flower fairies. In Waldorf schools worldwide, the two days following Halloween are set aside for All Soul’s Day in honor of the spirits of those who have died. Then, children take up the light they first kindled at Halloween, and with which they then illuminated the threshold between spheres in remembrance, and on the eve or day of Martinmas — traditionally November 11th, they carry a homemade lantern back out into the world (singing with their families), to their friends, neighbors, and community.

These festivals wonderfully express the spirit of man and nature at this time of year. All Soul’s and Martinmas have the quality of being a good follow-up to Halloween silliness in preparation for the Advent season. The external picture is one of the dying of outward nature; the leaves have fallen, the weather is cold, and the grim part of autumn has cast its spell.

Inwardly, the earth, and also the human being, becomes more spiritually alive. But, there is a danger of withdrawing too much within and cutting off from the rest of the world. The gesture of community of the children snaking their way through the darkness with their lanterns, searching to bring a little light and warmth from within back into the world, where there are those who are cold and hungry living in the darkness, is most fitting — and visually impressive. It is even good if the weather is a little bit on the nasty side. One feels the discomfort and the reality of what it means to be “out in the cold” and the effort it takes to walk through it and carry the lanterns.

At the end of Martinmas we partake of hot cider, soup, or breads with plenty of warmth and stories. The stories about Saint Martin helping the poor beggarman, who then reveals his own sacred nature to the Saint, take on a deeper meaning in this contrasted outdoor/indoor setting of activity. As the children themselves feel the bite of cold and the contrasting warmth of receiving the good food, drink, and soul warming songs and story, they develop the beginnings of the sense of what it really means to both suffer and receive succor: all very subtle, but concrete and real.

November Song
Golden light is turning grey, mists begin to rule the day.
Bare the trees their branches rift, clouds to dead leaves earthward drift.
Through the field the farmer pulls, seeds of ripened corn he sows,
trusts the earth will hold it warm, shelter it from cold and harm.
For he knows that warmth and light live there hidden from our sight,
and beneath a sheltering wing, deep below new life will spring.
Deep below, deep below, new life will spring.