Lighting the Way with Martinmas
By BRANDY NICHOLS
Martinmas arrives at just the right time of year. Where I live, the last of the Autumn color and fanfare blew away the week before (or earlier!) The woods have clearly gone to sleep and the shadows have wintry feel to them. It’s dark much earlier, thanks to the end of daylight savings time, and the excitement of Christmas is still six weeks away. This kind of festival nourishes our need for something to light the way to the longest night. My family has been celebrating Martinmas for four years now and it has always been a joy. I can look back through the pictures and my thoughts and see how we’ve grown, what has changed, and see the same bright magic in the lanterns.
My oldest child was four when we did our first lantern walk. We folded simple lanterns from oiled paper and glued tea lights in the bottoms. (directions here) My second child rode in a carrier on my back that year. We had no model for what a lantern walk should look like, other than what I could read on blogs, but we did it! We took a little walk around our neighbor’s yards. I didn’t know any lantern songs, at the time. The next year, we welcomed a new baby and I was just four days postpartum, so the day passed with very little fanfare–we had our own new light!
In 2014, we shared the night with an old friend of mine, as my husband was traveling with a new job. The baby from the previous year was my passenger then. We sang a few songs with voices that were tentative, but sincere. It felt a little uneasy at the time, trying to find our way with his new schedule and holding things together on my own. Our lanterns became even truer symbols of looking within to keep spirits bright in a dark time. Last year, we were joined by dear friends and their young daughter. The two toddling girls were a delight to our elderly neighbor, who was fading markedly on our Martinmas visit. I recall her face and voice so fondly, though she is now gone from us.
(dodecahedron star lantern directions here)
This year, we’ll celebrate with just the five of us. It feels right to keep things small and quiet, since this festival brings with it a reverent mood. We’ll fold new lanterns and search for just the right sticks to hold them. We’ll skip the oil, as I found it made our lanterns yellow over time. I’ll still glue the tea lights in place, and we’ll sing some new lantern songs that we’re learning in our movement circle. I feel excited for the evening and ready to tackle a longer walk. We live in a neighborhood with many older neighbors and I hope they’ll be delighted by our little procession, if they happen to look outside.
To be honest, it’s just us most of the time as we make our way through Waldorf homeschooling. There are times that I long for community, where I dream about a sudden change of life giving me the chance for a Waldorf school nearby. Still, I am a quiet person who enjoys going about my days with some solitude, so I feel pretty content in the choices we’ve made. It can feel a little unnerving when I step out and try something new in a family celebration, but it is almost always well-received and worth the energy I have given it. I love seeing our family festivals evolve each year.
My oldest child is in second grade, my son in his first year of kindergarten, and the baby will be three as of this essay being published. I suppose it is a new season in my mothering, with a daughter in the grades who has left behind some of the magic of the early years. I have felt a little sad about the passage of time, but I am looking forward to all the years ahead and how we can share festivals with renewed energy. Just as we have kept a daily rhythm of self-nourishing quiet time, I hope Martinmas will be a light in the sometimes dark world for my children as they grow.
Brandy educates her three children using the Enki curriculum at their home in the Iron Mountains of Virginia. She spends her days baking, knitting, sewing, taking lots of walks, and studying Waldorf education. You can follow along at her blog, Young in the Mountains.