Michaelmas, a festival for our age

What is this festival called Michaelmas? It is called a “new” festival although it has its roots in ancient Babylonia, India, and earlier. On the very simplest of levels it is known as a harvest festival. That moment in the year when all the fruits of our planting, weeding, growing efforts have ripened and are wanting to be gathered before the tentacles of frost creep into our fields and gardens.

In summer we kick off our shoes – literally and figuratively – to run barefoot over the warm earth. We are content to feel the sun warm us; the days are dull and sometimes drowsy. We spend time at home and with our families. Gardens grow and offer their bounty, and we nibble from them.

But with the first freshening breeze of autumn, we stand upright again, put on our shoes, grow conscious of the “weather,” and we begin our harvest in earnest, making ready for winter. The earth, too, assumes a new visage. The yellows, greens, and blues of summer turn to golds, oranges, and reds; nature’s last brilliant show before going to sleep once again.

It is Michaelmas that marks this change in the rhythms of nature and our lives. September 29th is the day called Michaelmas. It marks the autumn equinox and therefore the withdrawal of the sun’s light. At the human level, we once again take up the work of school and new initiatives, new projects leaving the carefree days of summer behind and bringing renewed energy into our work.

It is at this level that we speak more specifically of Michael, who throughout history has been seen as the “angel” who helps us by giving us the strength of will to accomplish our work. The word angel is not always easy for us. Many of us acknowledge that there is another world behind or beyond the physical material one available to our senses; a realm that one may describe as spiritual. Many of us will also acknowledge that somewhere deep within us there are those “dragons” that each of us must overcome in order to carry out our work fully. And so emerges this picture of Michael and the dragon, a dragon which is subdued, “slain”, but never dealt a death blow.

We have celebrated this festival many ways at Maine Coast Waldorf School, with each year bringing new ideas and new challenges. This year the Early Childhood will be celebrating Michaelmas throughout the season and grades 1-12 will be recognizing it on Thursday, September 30th.