As with so many festivals of early Winter, bringing light into the darkness is the essence of the Advent Garden. The form of the involuting and outgoing spiral was one that Dr. Rudolf Steiner gave as a form recommended to walk involving the whole child and their sensory systems. Form drawing is part of the curriculum in Waldorf schools, and children experience these forms in many ways, drawing them and walking them for instance. Around 1923 children in the first Waldorf Schools walked this form, but it was not until around 1926 when Bavarian farmers and a German nurse came together to create the custom of the garden. They laid out the spiral with moss and evergreens with a central candle, which was raised on a mount. The candles were brought in, carried by each child as they walked the spiral holding their apple with the candle in it. As they came to the center and lit their candle they placed it along the path on their way out, and the garden glowed with light.
This experience of beauty, music and solitude resonate with this time of outer darkness, and renewing our inner light. Diwali, Winter Solstice, Chanukah, Kwanzaa and Christmas are some of the festivals that include this element of light, along with the qualities of mystery, gratitude, generosity, and the upholding of high ideals kindled within us.
The children experience coming into a darkened room, hearing lyre, violin, guitar or flute music playing softly, and waiting their turn to receive the apple with an unlit candle and being led to the beginning of the path. They walk the path showing us all so much by how they navigate their way, and their own special walk. It is beautiful to watch, and hold with reverence. The children experience this wonder without explanation. The event has of course brought some parents to quiet tears, or a very quiet chuckle – or both, as they watch their child and dear classmates.
At the Waldorf School of Atlanta this festival is for kindergarten through second grade. Some classes have extended it in different forms further into the grades with a labyrinth or walking outside at night. Some classes let it “rest” after second and then bring the essence of this festival in a different way. The high school students at Academe of the Oaks look forward to walking the spiral again, understanding in a whole new way what they experienced when they were little.
“What a different time it is today, how much greater is the need, the need to go into the darkness, spreading the light as we go out.” ~ Christof-Andreas Lindenberg
This article originally appeared in the December 2011 edition of the Garden Breeze newsletter of the Waldorf School of Atlanta.