Why is May Day Celebrated in Waldorf Schools?

By Michelle Simmons, 2nd Grade Teacher and Festivals Committee

The sense of the sacred at the school has to do with the recognition (or maybe it’s hope) that time doesn’t just pass, it is taking us somewhere. The Waldorf seasonal festivals mark this journey in a way that resonates with the journey of other peoples across time and suggests meaning and mystery.

Throughout history and in all civilizations, there are rituals reflecting nature’s rhythms, important transitions, and significant moments in the cycle of the year and the life of the culture. For people today, festivals can help provide a real touchstone with the cycles of the earth and the soul nurturing they provide. Reverence, ritual and rhythm are three integrated aspects of Waldorf education. Our present culture does not always value these qualities as much as we may in our homes. Sensationalism, sensory stimulation, advertising and competitiveness are but a few contemporary trends that undermine our capacity for reverence. In the speed and busyness of our contemporary world, it often helps to be reminded of more enduring values. Establishing an environment in which each day is rhythmically ordered and the year is marked at special moments with rituals and celebrations helps create a secure foundation from which to grow. In Waldorf schools the elements of festival — light, food, song, and story — permeate the life of the school, and help establish the cadence of the year. 

May Day is a beautiful festival honoring the changing of the seasons from darkness to light. The tree of life was part of this ritual and is now represented by the Maypole. Our school’s May Faire festival features the play by the eighth grades and second grade portraying the passing of the crown between King Winter and his sister the May Queen. It includes activities such as  planting seeds, making flower crowns, playing games, live music and, of course, dancing around the Maypole.

By celebrating the passage of the seasons through art, music and story, we strengthen our connection to the rhythms of nature. Waldorf education was born in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and therefore Waldorf schools typically follow the traditional festivals of Western, Christian culture. Recognizing that not all families share this background, Waldorf schools throughout the world strive to honor the diversity of cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds of the families within each community.

Wherever you are, whatever your climate, in salute to the steady and fragile rhythms of our mother, Earth, we wish you a happy, festive, ribbon-festooned, lively, May!! And a fertile new year of the Earth!!

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