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All cultures throughout history have engaged in rituals that reflect the rhythms of nature or mark significant transitions for individuals or groups. In Waldorf schools around the world, rhythm – daily, weekly, yearly – permeates school life. The purpose of the school´s `festival life´ is to nourish the soul of the individual and bring the community together. Some of our festivals are small events — the teacher and their class alone. Others are for our school family, while others still are meant to include our broader community and neighbors.
As we celebrate the passage of the seasons through art, music and story, we deepen our connection to the working rhythms of nature. Waldorf schools, being a product of Western Europe in the beginning of the 20th century, typically follow the traditional festivals of Western, Christian culture. The Urban Prairie School recognizes that not all families share this background, and to this end we strive to honor the diversity of cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds of the families in our school.
Autumn Equinox – Festivals of Harvest
The beginning of each new year at Urban Prairie Waldorf School will be marked with a Rose Ceremony. The Rose Ceremony warmly welcomes the incoming first grade class into their eight-year journey with our community and is a tradition in many Waldorf schools throughout the world. The second graders hand each first grader a rose that they put into a vase symbolizing the individuality and community that lives in the class. When our school has an eighth grade the tradition of welcoming the first graders will be bestowed upon them. This is an all school assembly with parents encouraged to attend.
Michaelmas is a festival common to almost all Waldorf schools. It is the first festival celebrated in the academic year. The story of St. Michael is one of goodness facing and overcoming adversity; St. Michael slays the dragon with his sword. Michaelmas is a festival of inner strength and initiative. It is about all of us, as individuals, finding the will to perform rightful deeds in the world. Students may recite poetry about St. Michael, plant bulbs, grind grain, make soup, or clean the garden area. All families, along with the community, will be invited to take part in this festival.
Halloween & Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead)
Students are invited to bring their Halloween costumes to school in a bag. After lessons are over children may change into their costumes, and the school will celebrate Halloween. The children are requested to wear creative and imaginative costumes. Please avoid media-oriented costumes during the school celebrations. Your child´s class teacher will determine if parents are invited to school for the afternoon festivities.
Dia de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead, is celebrated with a memorial display of loved ones who have passed over and related craft activities in the grades Spanish classes.
Thanksgiving celebrates a universal harvest festival time when we can gather together to give thanks for the bountiful gifts the earth bestows upon us. School will be dismissed early on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving so students may enjoy a long weekend with their families.
As the daylight begins to wane and we prepare for the long winter nights ahead, we look inward for light and purpose. Each November we celebrate Martinmas, a festival of inner light in the outer darkness of the approaching winter. St Martin was a soldier in Rome in the 4th century. Legend says that one wintry night he met a poor beggar, half-naked and freezing. Martin removed the heavy military cloak from his shoulders and, drawing his sword, cut it in two, and gave half to the beggar. Celebrating Martinmas serves as a reminder that each of us has a divine spark that we must ferry out into the world and share with others. According to old customs at this time, as the days become shorter and the stars appear earlier, children would walk with lanterns through the streets singing. Children and parents participate in a Lantern Walk.
Winter Solstice – Festivals of Light
Many cultures celebrate the coming winter months with a festival of light. In Christian cultures this festival is called Advent; Ancient Egyptians celebrated the Festival of Osiris; the Celts and Druids held great festivals of light and fire; and Jews celebrate Hanukkah.
According to the old Julian calendar, December 13th was the longest night of the year. The declining daylight reminded people that the season of cold and hunger was approaching. People yearned for a friendly spirit to intercede, restoring the light to the earth. Over many centuries, this spirit of light became personified in Santa Lucia, the Queen of Light. In many northern European countries, this day is commemorated by a young girl dressed in white wearing a crown of lighted candles. She symbolizes a young girl who was killed by Romans fifteen hundred years ago for refusing to give up her religion. There is also a legend that during a time of great hunger in Sweden, she miraculously appeared, her head surrounded by a halo of light. She brought food to the starving and filled their despairing hearts with light and warmth. The oldest 2nd grade girl dresses in white with a beautiful crown on her head and leads a procession of 2nd graders through the school. They visit every classroom with warm buns to eat, symbolizing warmth and light in this cold, dark season.
As the darkest days fall upon us, the festival of Advent celebrates our inner light. Children are told a story by their class teacher and then proceed to walk a double spiral of pine boughs laid out on the floor. In the center, there sits a lit candle on a log, which the children light their own candles on. The path out is lined with gold stars, of which the children choose one to place their candle on. Placing a lit candle on the gold stars is symbolic of offering the highest part of ourselves in service to others.
Saint Nicholas Day
On December 6, St. Nicholas brings small gifts, usually oranges, chocolate coins and nuts, to the younger children in their classrooms, and delivers a scroll with verses indicating the strengths and weaknesses of each child. The focus is not on whether the child has been naughty or nice, but on the inner qualities of each child, both the strengths and weaknesses, and advice for growth. His visit gives the children a chance to reflect on their past year´s behavior and to make resolves for the coming year.
Near the time of the winter solstice, the people of the Jewish faith celebrate Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, in remembrance of a miracle that took place in Palestine over 2100 years ago. This festival is a rededication of the Jewish people to the ideals of religious freedom and political liberty under God. The Hanukkah festival lasts eight days. The principal ceremony is the lighting of the Menorah candles, following the same ritual as in the original ceremony. The candles symbolize faith, freedom, courage, love, charity, integrity, knowledge, and peace. Students in the third grade will observe Hanukkah and other grades may commemorate the festival as well.
The Shepherds´ Play
Faculty and staff traditionally perform the reverential and humorous medieval nativity play as a gift to the students and school community. This tradition of The Shepherds´ Play is observed in most Waldorf schools throughout the world. The teachers from City Garden and Urban Prairie perform this play together and the communities from both schools attend. School will be dismissed early, after the play is finished.
Christmas and Winter Celebration
The time of midwinter is the time for Christmas celebrations and the winter solstice. This is a time of year when light champions over darkness and our students can be a practical part of this process by helping provide for others in our area. At Urban Prairie School students will be invited to help the school collect food, clothing, household items and toys for families in the Chicago area who are in need of basic supplies.
Chinese New Year
Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, is a widely celebrated festival which marks the beginning of the Chinese Lunar Calendar. Taking place over fifteen days, it is a time spent with family welcoming the health and prosperity of the coming year, bringing about reconciliation and ushering in harmony. The children will participate in various activities associated with the festival such as reminiscing about the past year, eating jiaozi and tangyuan, and lighting lanterns.
Long before St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, a festival was held in ancient Rome during February in honor of the great god Pan. The festival was called Lupercalia and one of the customs was for the names of young men and women to be drawn in lottery fashion to choose token sweethearts. During the third century, the Bishop Valentine of Rome was martyred on the eve of the festival of Lupercalia. He was a man noted for his goodness and chastity and eventually the day acquired his name. The element of chance and the theme of love remain. Flowers, red heart shapes, lace, doilies and birds are symbols of this celebration. For children today, it is the element of surprise of a pretty card rather than romantic notions that holds enjoyment of the day. This favorite day of the heart is often celebrated on February 14th in the classrooms with small parties and the exchanging of Valentine cards. Children are encouraged to make their own cards.
Spring Equinox to Summer Solstice – Festivals of Renewal
Earth day is celebrated internationally as a day to inspire awareness and appreciate of the earth and her natural environment. In Waldorf schools, students are not taught conservation or environmentalism directly in the early grades, rather they are engaged in experiential learning that fosters their potential to be thoughtful, caring, and active stewards of the Earth. Waldorf schools work with an awareness of where all things originate as gifts from the Earth: paper from trees; crayons from bees, color from plants, and so on. The teachers lead students in daily practice of remembering these gifts with gratitude and in exercising care for how the Earth´s resources are used. This builds inner habits that prepare the children for being environmentalists on the deepest levels. Class teachers may choose to honor this day with their classes in a quiet, reflective manner.
We recognize the gradual warming of the earth and, henceforth, the return of life in Spring. This seasonal change is celebrated with various festivals around the world. In Christianity, the celebration is Easter, deriving some traditions from the Saxon Eastre and the Old German Eostre. The symbols of egg and hare are both known as signs of the return of life after winter´s long sleep. This holiday will be quietly celebrated in the classroom.
May Day is the ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of summer. It is known as Beltane in Celtic lands and celebrated by the Romans with recognition of the goddess Flora. Dancing around the May Pole is a joyful experience, symbolic of the tree of life and fertility. This festival is celebrated as an entire school community.
Cinco de Mayo
Cinco de Mayo commemorates the unlikely victory of Mexican forces over the French in the Battle of Puebla. In the United States, Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as a festival of Mexican culture. Students will observe this holiday with their Spanish teacher.
Classes may celebrate other festivals as they arise in the curriculum´s journey through the history of human cultures. Parents are encouraged to talk to the class teacher about coming in and sharing other meaningful festivals with the children.