The Martinmas Lantern Walk

Photo Credits: Kevin Morris

Many Waldorf communities have taken up the European tradition of celebrating the festival of Martinmas with a Lantern Walk during the evening on, or near, November 11, the day of St. Martin’s death. What does this signify to us in these modern times? Martin was born in the year 316, and died in 387. He is known, not only for his rugged, individual relationship to his religion, but also for his commitment to charity, represented by the story in which he cuts his own cloak in two to share with a poor man, in whom he recognized the divine spark. That he did not give his entire cloak, but instead kept half for himself, is indicative of the commitment to self, which comprises the other part of our humanity.

morris_161110_0081 During this festival time, teachers and parents may feel compelled to ponder such questions as, how do I find both courage and charity within? Where is the balance between care of self and care of others? We all know this is no easy task, yet worthy of attention and meditation. It is the work of us adults to ponder the festivals in whatever intellectual, spiritual, or personal way we choose. Yet for the young child, we offer the simple experience on a metaphorical level, as this is the way they learn most deeply.

Reverence for self and others will well up in them naturally, given the opportunity to do so. To prepare, we make handmade lanterns in the weeks leading up to the lantern walk, and sing our lantern songs. Their beautiful images carry us throughout the day as we bake, walk in the forest, and work on our projects. Slowly the image builds in the class community of how “we go through the land, like the wild geese band, children of one light are we.”

morris_161110_0126 On the evening of the Lantern Walk, we cast our light on the dark paths. We find our footing; though we may stumble on uneven ground, we find balance. By this very individual act of reaching deep inside for our inner light to guide us, we also light the path for others, and create a visible trail of our journey.

It is not a party, though it is joyful. It is not a conversation, though much is said. It is a visible expression of the work we must each do on our own, and the children can understand this in their own magical way. For me, the Lantern Walk is an opportunity for each individual to sense the quiet power of their own inner light; to ponder deeply, wordlessly, how it is we will each deal with our darkest nights.

In comparison to the Advent Garden a few weeks later, when we build up a space full of light together, this is a contemplative, uniquely individual festival, in which we may solidify the courage we strove for during the harvest season, and allow it to grow into soul confidence.
Indeed, the Calendar of the Soul verse for the week of Martinmas is thus:

I feel my own force, bearing fruit,
And gaining strength to give me to the world.
My inmost being I feel charged with power
To turn with clearer insight
Toward the weaving of life’s destiny.

Following this experience, what may arise in us is an understanding of what and how we can give to others. In finding our sense of self, we find trust that our inner light will lead us toward care of each other. Again, we do not explain this to the children. We offer the experience, and we strive to hold onto a reverent attitude throughout and afterward.

We hope to give ourselves and our community the gift of observation and quiet listening. On the ride home, or at breakfast the next morning, you may hear something new in your child, something that shines out anew, that sings, ” this little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine.”