Urban life can feel chaotic to young children. I see it’s a stress for my daughter. The city never sleeps! The sirens, streetlights, the vroom of cars, and even the ding-ding of the streetcars continue late into the night. Work days end late and push back dinner time. It’s not easy to keep consistent bedtimes and to rise with the sun!
I want my children to feel the rhythms of nature. I know that repetition and predictability are soothing to them, so daily rhythms matter, marking day and night. Eating, sleeping, playing, in a rhythmic way, always the same pattern if not exactly the same times. Simple rituals like singing at dinnertime and pouring warm tea every afternoon at our kid-sized table. These familiar habits ease the transitions from outer life to inner life, from sleep to waking, from school or work to home. Like magic, at first they felt forced, but now they are so internalized we go through the motions together, automatically. They add a kind of soulful energy to our life, a familiar spirit that accompanies us as we go along.
Rhythms can take us through the seasons and the year, too. We can feel the movement of nature, expanding and contracting: the bursts of green growth with the first rains; then the slow and steady dry months when underground roots hold their dormant energy; next the fire season explodes turning death into fertile soil and new life. The cycle from birth through dying. We feel the cycles as time passes. Riding these rhythms we are part of something bigger than ourselves. I imagine the earthy brown fingers of the Pachamama reaching up to us through the small patches of our yard that aren’t paved or built over, where our humble plantings make direct contact with her depth and her enormity. This great Bernal Hill on which our house is perched, she has her own spirit and we feel the touch of her wildness nestling beneath us and running through her tall grasses.
I’m sure my children feel these things, but I want to make it as automatic as our daily routine. I want them to feel part of something bigger as a member of our family, that our family’s ways of marking the seasons helps give them a special place to belong. For me, folklore and culture bring this kind of magic, tying our family life via our cultural roots to the rhythms of nature. We can find festivals, foods, and activities just right for THIS time of year. Just right according to the changing seasons, according to wild nature and our cultivated gardens, according to the emotional effect they have on us, our ancestors have passed down stories, songs, spirits, foods, and traditions. With connection to our roots, our heritage, we can find what is needed to nourish us in this moment.
Seeming a little abstract? . . . for example, I wrote here about lighting candles in the autumn, how we can feel the mood of darkness, closer to the spirit world, when nature is dying back in the cold and dark. Our festivals help keep the warmth and light kindled.
Anyway, this is my take on it. There are many resources from the Waldorf world on the festival year. A clear and accesible explanation of the benefits of predictability and rhythm can be found in Simplicity Parenting. The classic All Year Round guides families through yearly festivals. Roger Druitt’s Festivals of the Year adds to this a deeper connection to the earth, nature, and spirits, based on Rudolf Steiner’s work. For Druitt the yearly cycle of festivals is a work of creation in which we go beyond giving thanks for the earth’s gifts; in fact we can give new life and sustenance back to the earth itself. (Just started this one, lots to take in!)
Although written to be inclusive, both of these last two works do have the word “Christian” in their titles . . . yes. Causes quite a struggle for me. Most Waldorf-inspired materials are based on Christian and European traditions. For our family, with Jewish and South American roots, that just doesn’t quite fit, doesn’t feel right. I need to look further. To put our complete selves into our family traditions, our own cultures must be present, yes, but also the history of the oppression that European societies have inflicted on us, that must be present, too. Not overtly when the children are young, but still, it lives within us and is part of who we are. And who our children will be.
Actually, I meant this to be a short introduction to my alternative-to-Eurocentric-festival plans for our family’s summer solstice season. Sigh. I guess that will have to wait until tomorrow.
It’s satisfying to see that my thinking has taken some shape since last summer, when I was all muddled and trying to find my way. Each time around the year family house-holding and homemaking gets a little bit better!