May Day is a Northern Hemisphere festival (and is also called International Workers’ Day) and is celebrated in many Waldorf schools. It is an ancient tradition of celebrating the arrival of summer. Known as Beltane in Celtic lands, and celebrated by the Romans recognizing the goddess Flora, May Day is a popular tradition.
The May Pole Dance is a joyful experience, and often the center of the May Day tradition celebration. The May Pole often bears garlands and symbolizes the tree of life and growth of spring vegetation. This festival is celebrated as an entire school community.
In most Waldorf schools, children from each grade take turns doing a May Pole dance. The patterns get more complicated as the children mature. Whole classes of children prepare “May Baskets,” hand-woven baskets of new spring flowers that are then hung on the fence posts or door handles or front steps of neighbors or loved ones to wish them a happy spring.
Tra La, it’s May, the lusty month of May
That cheery month when everyone goes blissfully astray.
It’s time to do a shocking thing or two.
Those dreary vows that everyone takes, everyone breaks,
Everyone makes divine mistakes! The lusty month of May.
~ Queen Gwenevere sings in Camelot
Throughout history cultures have employed rituals that reflect the patterns of nature and mark transitions for individuals or groups. All around the world in Waldorf schools the daily, weekly, and yearly rhythms infuse the life of the school. The purpose of each school´s festival life is to bring the community together and enrich the soul of each individual. Some day festivals are small events — the teacher and their class. Others are for the entire school, while others include the school’s greater community and neighbors.
By celebrating the passage of the seasons through art, music and story, we strengthen our connection to the rhythms of nature. Waldorf education was born in Western Europe at the beginning of the 20th century and therefore Waldorf schools typically follow the traditional festivals of Western, Christian culture.
Recognizing that not all families share this background, Waldorf schools throughout the world strive to honor the diversity of cultural, religious and ethnic backgrounds of the families within each community. WSSD continues to explore ways to highlight and incorporate many more cultural traditions throughout the year.
Wherever you are, whatever your climate, in salute to the steady and fragile rhythms of our mother, Earth, we wish you a happy, festive, ribbon-festooned, lively, raucous May Day! And a fertile new year of the Earth!