As a beautiful, heavy Berkshire snow made its grand entrance, we have wonderful holiday celebrations and significant lessons that go with the season here at the Steiner School. The meaning of Advent is “to come,” and we are now symbolically looking forward on these early, dark nights to the light ahead as we celebrate the Season of Light. Festivals gathered together in this season include Hanukkah (Hebrew), Diwali (Indian), Solstice (Druid) and Advent (Christian).
At Steiner, the Spiral of Light marks a turning point of the year, Winter Solstice (the shortest day), and looks ahead to the return of light with a hope and inward promise for spring. Eurythmy teacher and festival committee member Patti Regan comments, “The festival of the Season of Light is an experiential one, which happens in a silent mood of reverence except when we are singing. It’s about learning to find the inner source of inspiration.”
Second grade teacher Tracy Fernbacher explains, “An important component of the second grade curriculum are legends that celebrate good, wise and kind people, so December is a busy month for second grade. Our month-long celebration of the Season of Light begins Monday, December 3rd. Hanukkah begins on this day as well. After Early Childhood students will walk their Spiral of Light on Sunday, December 2, first and second graders will celebrate an in-school Spiral of Light celebration Monday during main lesson, followed by an all-school assembly where we will light the menorah and the first Advent candle, sing songs of the season and hear a story from Mrs. Palmer that will carry through the three weeks of Advent. We will recognize the legend of Saint Nicholas on December 6th and Santa Lucia Day on December 13th.”
Steiner classes celebrate St. Nicholas Day in several ways. St. Nicholas was a bishop with a compassionate heart, especially for children. As the giver of gifts, when he visits the classrooms in first through third grades, he is known by the tall miter he wears and the crook he carries, as well as the great book he reads from, full of wisdom and understanding for each class. The teacher will call each child by name to receive a piece of golden fruit from St. Nicholas himself. Grades 4-8 will receive a basket of fruit from St. Nicholas, with a message tucked inside for their class. Early childhood students will not see St. Nicholas in person, but when there is a knock on their classroom door, will find a basket of fruit as a surprise gift!
The color gold and yellow blossoms like yarrow or tansy are connected to this holiday, representing bags of gold that the historical St. Nicholas famously distributed to the needy. For centuries, children around the world have left their shoes outside the door (perhaps filled with a carrot or a little hay for St. Nicholas’s great white horse) on the night before December 6th, hoping that St. Nicholas might leave something for them as he journeys on his way, such as clementines, gold (chocolate) coins or a golden walnut!
December 13 is the shortest day of the year and also the day Nordic European counties and many Italian areas celebrate Saint Lucy and the return of light. Santa Lucia day brightens the dark days of midwinter and celebrates the life of Saint Lucia, an Italian saint known for her kindness and love. Saint Lucy or Lucia, whose name comes from the Latin word “lux” meaning light, links this celebration with the days growing longer after the Winter solstice.
In our celebration, the 2nd grade students, dressed all in white, process through the school, visiting each class from Early Childhood through 8th Grade, singing Lucia songs and delivering saffron buns, a traditional St. Lucia day treat. The 2nd grade especially enjoys the experience, as the St. Lucia story is one they have heard as part of the 2nd grade legends curriculum.
Here is a recipe by Sam Sifton from the New York Times Magazine for Santa Lucia buns:
Yield: 30 Buns
Time: 1.5 Hours
6 ounces butter, melted
2.5 cups lukewarm milk
3/4 teaspoon saffron
1 cup sugar
1.7 ounces of fresh yeast
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 pounds wheat flour, or as needed
Beaten egg, for brushing
Raisins, for garnish.
Place the butter and milk in a medium bowl. Using a mortar and pestle, grind the saffron with a pinch of the sugar, and stir into the mixture. In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in a little of the lukewarm butter mixture, then add the remaining butter mixture, the remaining sugar and the salt.
Gradually add enough of the flour (almost all of it) to make a workable dough, kneading for 10 minutes by hand or 5 minutes in a mixer with a dough hook. Shape into a ball, sprinkle with a little flour and cover with a cloth. Allow to rise in a warm spot for 30 to 45 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a floured work surface, and knead in additional flour if the dough is sticky. Shape as desired into buns, braids or lengths. Place on lined baking sheets, and allow to rise again for 30 to 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 400.
Brush the buns with beaten egg, and press raisins lightly into the dough. Bake until golden and risen, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a bun comes out dry. Smaller buns may take 8 to 10 minutes; larger lengths and braids, 15 to 20 minutes. Cool the buns on a rack under a cloth.