I love this time of year. I love the bright blue skies, the vibrant shades of red, gold and orange on the trees. I love the warm sun on my face and the cold wind - the frosts in the morning which leave the summer plants in sad, damp heaps and the comforting afternoon sun which warms the last of the seasons' butterflies. I am blessed to live in Wisconsin, where the Fall is (almost!) as beautiful as it is in my native New York.
As the days shorten and the dark seems to gather strength, I find I often have to dig deep within to find the resolve to get out of my cozy bed in the morning, to create the soul warmth in my home in the shortening days and to overcome the gloom that can easily overwhelm one as the light gives way to the dark. Thankfully, I can turn to Michael and to Martin for inspiration and guidance as I seek to shore up my own inner resolve and journey into the darkness.
These special festivals speak deeply to me and have been an important part of my family life since my sons were quite small. Michaelmas and Martinmas are celebrated in most Waldorf schools in the US and in Britain and there is a wealth of resources available for those who wish to celebrate these festivals at home. On the song page of the kindergarten part of the Christopherus web site there is a lovely Martinmas song which is great for little ones through about 2nd or 3rd grade. All the Waldorf festival books have a wealth of activities, crafts, songs and stories for these festivals - those of you who have my first grade syllabus have a very nice Martinmas story in it.
What are these festivals about? Well, the essence of Michaelmas (29 September) is about a great hero, about the Archangel Michael (three syllables, Mik- A- ael or who is like God) who subdues, but most crucially, does not destroy, the dragon, thus leaving the possibility of redemption. Martin, a warrior, a killer in the pay of the Roman army, has a vision of the Christ after sharing his cloak with a beggar, thus saving the man's life. The Christ reminds Martin that wheresoever goes the least of His children, so too goes the Christ. Upon hearing this, Martin rejects the soldier's path and instead becomes a man of peace. Martin is celebrated on 11 November, Armistice Day.
Those who are not Christian can find alternative ways of working with these festivals if they so choose. Michaelmas is often celebrated as a harvest festival, when one gives thanks for the rich bounty that springs from the dark earth. Martinmas can be marked as a Lantern festival, with a procession in the dark of children and adults singing softly and carrying lit lanterns. A coat drive for the homeless is also an appropriate activity for this time of year.
However you choose to mark this time of year, may you find the inner light that will sustain you and your family as you journey together into the darkest time of year.