“In the fields it is autumn again, African children are gathering grain;
African children with baskets in their hands. African children from across the land;
Dance to the sun, dance to the rain, dance to the earth, to give us grain.
A little fire we will make, bread of golden corn we will bake:
Bread of golden corn we will eat, then African children fall fast asleep;
Dance to the sun, dance to the rain, dance to the earth to give us grain.” – Susan Perrow and Sue Gould 2001
The mood of a Waldorf festival is set with a nature table, stories, blessings, poems, feasting and songs. A candle is lit as a sign for the inner experience of light and warmth, which we want to awaken in the moment. In our Kindergarten class, the harvest festival celebrates the golden richness around us at the end of summer. The children experience this the whole of the first term in the building of a farm and harvest theme in the morning ring time and during story time culminating in the festival celebration. The colours of autumn are gold, yellow, brown, orange and red, bringing to mind the flamboyance of the flames of a fire. The autumn trees are radiant and bright against the blue backdrop of the sky. The colours symbolize strength, courage, action and consciousness.
Golden in the treetops,
Golden in the sky,
Golden, golden, golden,
Harvest is coming by.”
The children make handwork of animals like bunnies and chickens. In our class, many other animals were sewn to join in the festivities. Fallen leaves, rich in autumn colours, are collected and brought in to decorate the harvest table, creating an inner picture of the outside world. Children love to walk through dried fallen leaves to experience the crunchy sound as their boots crush the leaves.
The festival food consists of harvested fruit and vegetables in season at this time, all in classic green and autumn colours that match the leaves, including broccoli, beans, gem squash, carrots, apples, pineapples, pawpaws, naartjies and oranges. The baking of bread brings home the story the little red hen. She harvests the wheat, grinds the flour and bakes the bread all by herself.
The symbol of the egg is surely one of the most widespread symbols for new life. Outwardly, the shell is cold, hard, smooth and seemingly dead. It gives no hint of the secret life within. It is in a way like a cave or grave. Yet an egg, particularly one from a free range hen, which has been allowed outside to peck in the grass, when cracked open reveals the most brilliant golden yolk shining inside. This is the same gold we see all around us when the sun shines behind a golden autumn tree.
Our festival story of the gnome and the bunny, who visit Mother Earth in her cave beneath the earth and receive a beautiful garden to live in, at the top of the mountain, ends on a high note when a butterfly joins them. The metamorphosis of the caterpillar wrapping itself in a silky cocoon and then emerging into a beautiful butterfly offers the same picture of new beginnings and transformation as the egg does. It shows the inevitable change that constantly takes place in our lives.
“If you know not dying and becoming, then you are a stranger to this earth.”
As it is a time of dying and new life, another appropriate way to give this picture to young children, without burdening them with intellectual explanations, is to let them plant seeds and bulbs, to show that new growth will come. This time carries within it the seed or germination of new beginnings. As an image of this, the bulb that we plant at this festival, like the egg and the cocoon carries newness within, slowly growing until it bursts forth some months later in Spring.
At this time, the sunshine is not as hot and the days start to become cooler. As the days get cooler, everyone wants to crawl inside, to be cosy and cuddle in warm jerseys, even under the blankets or by the warmth of a fire. It becomes even harder to wake up and get up out of bed in the morning.
May this holiday be filled with love and laughter. See you all next term.
Caroline Joseph, Kindergarten Teacher