The intense rays of summer that beckoned us outside have waned and Lady Autumn, in her golden crown, calls us back inside. Each day, the sun’s rays tilt more softly and the trees shed their leaves and drop their fruit to the ground. These photoperiodic and outward changes are signals that it’s time to draw nature’s warmth and bounty inward for nourishment in the dark winter months ahead.
Try as we might, we cannot separate ourselves from nature’s call to draw within and settle back into ourselves. Nature pulls toward hibernation, and our physical bodies heed the signals. We begin to crave warming foods, warm clothes, blankets on beds, slippers on feet, and a slower pace. As we collect the last harvest from our gardens and tuck our spring bulbs into their winter beds, we in turn feel a need to create physical warmth, and if our hearts and minds are open to the invitation, a spiritual warmth.
Rudolf Steiner indicated that the path of the human soul can be navigated through the course of the year, its seasons, and their relation to the circumference of the cosmic heavens. In The Calendar of the Soul, Steiner leads readers through weekly and seasonal verses of reflection. During the week of November 10–16, the time when our Lantern Festivals in our Waldorf curriculum occur, he offers the following verse:
I feel my own force, bearing fruit
And gaining strength to give me to the world.
My inmost being I feel charged with power
To turn with clearer insight
Toward the weaving of life’s destiny.
Archetypally our agrarian work paused during the winter months, allowing space to focus on family and community through ceremony, celebrations, and festivals that remind us to carry the light and warmth of the summer months with us into the darkest days of the year. The need to connect to our inner light and express it out into the world spans across cultures and ages. Though histories and legends differ, the spiritual essence and expression is similar: Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights; the Jewish celebration of Hanukkah; the Lantern Festival in China; and our own Lantern Walk, Advent, and Winter Spiral events to name a few. Connection with light is a deep reflection of our own humanity and our need to care for and strengthen our inner being so that we can offer ourselves—or our light—out to the world as Steiner suggests in this verse.
For our children, the preparation, anticipation, and slow building toward a festival is just as important as the event itself. Seasonal celebrations offer a rhythmic foundation, guiding children’s inner spiritual development, and also their outer work of positively contributing to a community.
As we move into Advent and the Winter Spiral, the quiet reflective mood of winter deepens still. A hush of awe reverberates for children and adults alike as each child has the chance to create his or her own light, carry it outward, and add it to the collective of little lights that together bring great illumination to all.
The longer, colder nights in this season that mark our distance from the sun are a call to reflect on where we have been and where we are now, and an invitation to set intentions. How are we holding to our values as individuals in our families and communities? In what ways can we be mindful of creating pause and strengthening our inner and outer light as we live out our very busy and frantic modern life? How is our inner light shining outward and becoming a living form in our world?
The Sunlight fast is dwindling
My little lamp needs kindling
Its light shines bright in darkest night
Dear lantern guide me with your light.
(Cincinnatti Waldorf Songbook)
–Angela Light, Early Childhood Teacher