The Autumn Equinox and Michaelmas

We are thrilled to welcome Ms Kerry Clements and her family to the Mangrove community! Here is a lovely article she wrote for Early Childhood parents about our first festival of the school year:

“The Autumn winds blow open the gates
Saint Michael for you we wait
We follow you, show us the way
With joy we greet this Autumn day
Good Morning, good morning”

Late September and early October in Southwest Florida is quite unlike the Autumn of Lancaster County Pennsylvania. As a native of Amish farm country I have become accustomed to the beautiful outward expression of Mother Earth as she prepares to take a deep in-breath and ready herself for the coming winter. The maple trees are the most dramatic of the deciduous, the leaves turning brilliant hues of gold, orange and red. Mist often settles on the hillsides each morning as the nights become increasingly
cooler. Visual elements of Fall are everywhere, the harvested and bundled corn stalks, baskets of apples and endless fields of pumpkins ready to be picked and carved or made into pumpkin pie. But here, in this sub-tropical region, the expression is different. No less magical or beautiful, but different.

The breathing of Mother Earth, in this equatorial region, is much more subtle and gentle. In October the humidity decreases and the temperature becomes much more comfortable. Being outdoors is enjoyable. As our northern neighbors begin to look inward, here in the south we are beginning to take an out-breath. When considering seasonal rhythms, there is an imbalance in the breath, the expression of summer, of light, of green and growth is the ruler in this kingdom. But if you look closely and atune one’s self to the language of Mother Earth, you realize there are seasonal shifts to behold. While we are not picking apples or harvesting wheat on the Southwest coast of Florida, we see the changes in other ways. Soon the sweet starfruit will turn a golden yellow, the citrus fruits will show their first hints of ripening. The beautyberries are in their full expression of bright lavender. And to the delight of the squirrels, the oak trees will soon drop their acorns providing a bountiful feast for our bushy tailed friends.

But in this place of whispering changes, how does one mark the passage of time for our little ones? The practice of celebrating seasonal festivals is an honored tradition in human culture and Waldorf education. Their significance is deeply important to the inner life of humanity and the developing child. Young children do not yet have the ability to understand the concept of time and it’s passage. The celebration of seasonal festivals supports the child’s connection to the breathing of the earth and nature’s cycles. One of the most noticeable shifts during the Autumn season begins to occur at the Autumn Equinox, when day and night are approximately the same length. This moment marks the beginning of our journey to the winter solstice, the longest night. The feast of St. Michael is celebrated during the season of the Autumn Equinox. Michaelmas was originally celebrated in Western Europe as a festival to give thanks for a bountiful harvest and to acknowledge the waning of the light and the approach of the longer nights. This imagery is represented in the tales of St. Michael defeating the dragon. St. Michael is an image of courage and strength, reminding all us that winter will pass and the light will return.

In our early childhood classroom this imagery is but only a seed. We cheerfully sing songs of St. Michael, hear stories of bravery and enjoy the fruits of the season. The children delight in dying their silk capes of golden light with natural materials. This year we used golden turmeric, the magic of firebush flowers and the rays of father sun to turn our capes a bright yellow color. Soon the children will each be reverently presented with
their golden capes.

“I give you this cape of golden light
May it give you courage, strength and might”

After which we will take a journey across campus in search of Mother Earth’s basket of goodies (fruits of the season). For snack we will shape our bread loaves into dragon bread. The children love to create scales and other features with almonds and raisins. Our dragon breathes fiery strips of red, yellow and orange peppers (sweet peppers). A nibble of dragon fruit is also a fun surprise and keeps with the theme. The qualities of courage and inner light are an essential element of the early childhood experience. We adults may ponder the meaning of Michaelmas or the Autumnal
Equinox but it is best for the young child to experience the seasonal journey in images and activities that are meaningful without an explanation of the underlying thoughts and concepts. “In time, the children’s experiences will ripen into an understanding that will be truly their own.” (N. Foster)

I wish you all many blessings in this season of St. Michael and the Autumn Equinox! ~ Ms Kerry Clements, Early Childhood Teacher

Plant dyed golden capes inspire!

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