Celebrating Hope and Light in Advent
One of the wonderful things about having children is that as they go through school, there are many chances for parents to experience new things too. One of the new experiences I discovered was the Waldorf School custom of celebrating the beginning of Advent with an Advent Spiral.
Children from kindergarten through about 3rd grade typically celebrate this ritual. A spiral is made on the floor of a large room using greenery, generally evergreens. Holly and other wintery plant materials can be added to make it more beautiful and colorful. Stars are placed along the edges of the green spiral. In the center, there’s a candle. Sometimes a person is there to hold the candle. Sometimes it’s just the candle.
After dark, the children and their families assemble and enter the room. It’s quite dark. Usually there’s only a little light for singers or musicians. An “angel” enters carrying a lighted candle and walks into the spiral path, around and around to the center. There he or she lights the candle at the center, extinguishes the one carried in, and walks back out of the spiral. At that point, each child in turn is given an apple with a candle held in its center – where the stem has been. The bottom of the apple has been cut so that the apple will sit safely level when it’s put down. The child carries the apple candle into the center of the spiral, lights it there, then carries it back out from the center. Finding a star, the child puts the apple candle down on the star and then walks the rest of the way back out the spiral.
As each child lights his or her candle and deposits it around the spiral, the room takes on a lovely golden glow. When all have had their turn, the “angel” returns to the center and extinguishes the candle there, leaving the room lighted by the candles of the children. All then leave the room and go to another for a treat.
No explanation is given to the children or their families of the significance of the ritual. The children have been told what they are to do, but not why. It is understood that when the time comes that they are old enough to understand its significance, they’ll figure it out for themselves. In the meanwhile, it is a lived experience to see the way the light each brings from the center helps light a dark room/world.
This year, at a time of financial chaos in the world and great uncertainty, my family and I again celebrated an Advent spiral. We invited a few relatives who live nearby to come to our home after dark on the First Sunday of Advent. We had made a spiral on our patio using greens trimmed from around our yard. We don’t have evergreens, but willows, morning glory, bouganvillea, and other blooming plants made the spiral beautiful. (It is the central coast of California, after all!) This time all walked the spiral. There were only a few of us, but again the light shone forth and it was beautiful to see. A simple dinner of stew, salad and pie followed, with much conversation and laughter. A renewal of hope and commitment to each other for the new year.
If you choose to celebrate Advent with a spiral of your own, be sure you have water or sand close at hand in case of fire. Children should not wear long skirts, and hair must be tied back – away from flames. We used tea candles in votive lamps instead of the apples, so the breeze would not blow out the fire. It was a bit more challenging to light them, so our “angel” stayed in the center to help light each candle.
Wishing you all the blessings of hope, faith, light, joy and love in Advent and the new year to come.