Last Winter, my family participated in our first Advent Spiral with our Waldorf-inspired homeschool group. It was an exquisite experience and we looked forward to participating again this year. When we learned we would not be available to attend the group’s 2011 Spiral, at first we were sad, but then brightened at the idea of hosting our own Winter Spiral for a few neighbors and friends.
For those who are new to the Winter Spiral, or Advent Spiral as it is sometimes called, it is a tradition for the younger grades in Waldorf Schools. Evergreen boughs are laid on the floor or ground to create a spiral. In the center of the spiral is a lit candle. The room is darkened (or it is nighttime if held outdoors) and each child takes a turn to walk the spiral holding an unlit candle. As the child reaches the center, she lights her candle from the center candle and then retraces her steps out of the spiral. The child brings forth the Light as she walks outward and chooses a place along the spiral to set her lit candle. As child after child has a turn and more and more lit candles grace the spiral, the room becomes increasingly filled with light. Nothing formal is explained to the children; it is a lived experience that takes place within them at a level beyond words.
In the spirit of keeping things simple for ourselves and because we thought it would be lovely, we decided to host our first Winter Spiral outside in our backyard. We asked our guests to bring their own candles, blankets to sit on, and items to add to the Spiral.
It is traditional to form the spiral with evergreen boughs. Since we do not have our own evergreen trees, we offered some unsolicited “volunteer” time pruning an evergreen tree in our neighborhood park and several neglected evergreen bushes at the edge of a nearby parking lot! As I scanned our neighborhood for evergreen trees, I became aware of what a variety of them there are. I “met” many of them for the first time and now know where they live, what their shape is, and what their needles are like. As we searched and gathered, I felt myself stepping into the magic of nature and the season—feeling its presence and aliveness right in my urban neighborhood.
Next, my husband and I cleared our backyard of some unnecessary and slightly unsightly items. The space started to take on an air of enchantment—as though it was opening and waiting for what we would place there. My four year old daughter and I arranged the evergreen boughs in a spiral on our grassy backyard. We noticed that the evergreen blended in with the grass and the spiral did not look distinct. We looked around us and found a solution close at hand. Still very much at the height of Autumn here, we raked up red and yellow leaves from our trees and placed a path of leaves in between the evergreen spiral. It set the spiral off beautifully, looked so deliciously seasonal, and the leaves were nice to walk on!
We placed holly berries and pine cones (also “harvested” from our neighborhood park) as well as carved animals, shells, and my daughter’s special rocks amidst the evergreen boughs. We placed a single white taper candle in a stable candle holder on a tree stump in the middle of our spiral. The next few hours were spent admiring our work and making efforts to keep our children from repeatedly walking the spiral since we wanted it to look nice and fresh for our guests.
It was twilight as the families arrived; they were able to take in the layout of the spiral in the gentle, fading light. Once we were settled and the walking began, darkness fell completely and the meaning of walking through the darkness to find the Light at the Center and bringing forth that Light was made very tangible.
Here is the verse one of the mothers read before we began walking. I was amazed at how perfect the verse was and how it came alive as I listened to it while standing in front of our earthy spiral. It’s from Nancy Foster, here:
Deep Mid-Winter drawing near,
Darkness in our Garden here – -
One small flame yet bravely burns
To show a path which ever turns.
Earth, please bear us as we go,
Seeking Light to send a-glow:
Branches green and moss and fern,
Mark our path to trace each turn.
Brother animals, teach us too
To serve with patience as you do.
We walk with candle toward the Light
While Earth awaits with hope so bright:
In the Light which finds new birth
Love may spread o’er all the Earth.
Deep Mid-Winter drawing near – -
May Light arise in our Garden here.
The candles we carried were placed in glass jars or little lanterns so they would be protected from wind. Most of the children were able to independently use the center candle to light their candle. Mothers instinctively followed their youngest children into the spiral, guiding them in the lighting. For my four year old daughter, we practiced using the taper and lighting a tea light in a jar in advance so she was able to do it herself during the spiral.
Here is the verse we sang as the children walked the spiral:
________is walking to get her little light. C A D C A A G G A A F
All the stars are watching her, By day and by night….C C A D C A G G A AF
Once the candle is lit:
Now she has her little light, G G C C A A C
And her face is shining bright, G G C C A A C
Carefully she’ll guard it, C C C A D C A
All through the winter’s night. G G A A F
As each child walked, it was an opportunity to relax and savor his or her unique energy. I felt myself sending blessings to each of them. I enjoyed having the time to slow down and experience the cool night air, the sound of crunching leaves as each one walked the path, and the sweet darkness that was becoming more and more filled with light as each child made his or her journey to the center of Light and back.
Adults took turns walking after the children and everyone seemed powerfully moved by the experience. I was amazed at how alive and new my own experience was, given that I had walked the spiral many times during the daylight as we were setting it up. Now, in the darkness, I felt a sense of being ancient and of walking on an ancient path. The walk was more difficult than I expected as I could not see too far ahead and the need for Light (on all levels) was made very real. Additionally, my older child did something that agitated my younger child at the very moment I was walking the spiral and the younger one cried out for me to help her. This so perfectly mirrored my daily experience and frustrations of walking through life as both mother and spiritual aspirant and made my awareness of the need to receive, walk in, and carry the Light even more pronounced.
We ended with a beautiful good night lullaby.
One friend called the next day to express her gratitude, relating that the Winter Spiral was deeply meaningful, that it set a most inspiring tone for her family’s holiday season. In addition to being moved by the power and beauty of the Winter Spiral , I felt exhilarated and empowered that my family carried out this event! Drawing from our experience the year before as well as on-line photos and descriptions, we created our own Winter Spiral, rooted in tradition, and yet unique to who we are, using what we had on hand, and improvising whenever needed. I hope that our experience conveys how joyful and do-able creating you own Winter Spiral can be and inspires others to share in this tradition.
Wishing you a light-filled holiday season!
Beth Dubois is a homeschooling mother to Theodore, age 11, and Zoe, age 4. She and her husband, Joel, live in beautiful Sacramento, CA. Beth works part-time as a nurse practitioner. She is grateful to have become acquainted with Waldorf education over 20 years ago and has loved the spiritual and seasonal wisdom and the deep understanding of human development it embodies.
copyright 2011 The Wonder of Childhood