Throughout the year we celebrate festivals to connect us with the cycles of nature, establish a yearly rhythm for the children, and strengthen our community. Michaelmas is the first festival of our school year.
This ancient festival is associated with the beginning of autumn and the shortening of days, and celebrates harvest, human courage, and the triumph of light over darkness. Michael is an archangel in Christian, Jewish and Islamic tradition. In the old testament St Michael is one of the principal angelic warriors, protector against the dark of the night, who fought against Satan and cast him from heaven. As the days get colder and shorter, we come together to give thanks, celebrate the fruits of summer and make ourselves strong in the face of the oncoming winter.
We lead up to the festival with stories and poems about St. Michael and the dragon in the Classes, and harvest songs and activities in the Kindergarten. Throughout the week the children and teachers prepare for the festival making cakes, dragon bread and table decorations. On the day of the Festival the Kindergarten children arrive with simple harvest gifts from home and make leaf crowns. The whole School gather for a Michaelmas feast in the main Hall, which the children have all helped prepare.
Children bring a harvest gift for the festival which are distributed to a local charity. In Kindergarten each child is given a bulb in return to plant in the Kindergarten garden to brighten our springtime.
Michaelmas was celebrated quite widely in Britain, Ireland and beyond in pre-industrial times. It seems to have gradually disappeared as we have become less and less dependent on, and connected to, the earth and cycles of the year. With modern industrial farming and mass food retailing we do not fear the meagreness of winter any more.
Michaelmas can help children experience real gratitude for the food that’s on our tables and give them a soul connection to the earth and cycles of the year. For adults it is an opportunity to reflect on and reconnect with our dependence on the earth’s generosity for our survival. Winter can also be seen metaphorically as a time of cold and dark, of loneliness, maybe of fear. As St Michael, we might also gather our strength and courage to face the dragon of our fears.
From ‘All Year Round’ Ann Druitt, Christine Fynes-Clinton and Marjie Rowling [Hawthorn Press]
“Michaelmas, or the Feast of Michael and All Angels, is celebrated on the 29th September every year and commemorates the deed of the Archangel Michael “…there was a war in Heaven: Michael and his angles fought against the dragon; …and the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, call Devil, and Satan, …was cast into the earth”. Hundreds of churches in Europe have been dedicated to him. He is well-known figure in icon painting – usually shown with a shield and lance, or fiery sword, gazing outwards while subduing the dragon underfoot. Sometimes he is shown holding a balance, with which he weighs the souls of men; again he looks outwards with characteristic questioning gaze.
September 29th comes within the astrological sign of Libra, and very near the perfect balance point of daylight and darkness in the year. To achieve balance between that part of us which belongs to nature, and the part which strives for goals which are not to be found in our ‘human nature’, we have to outweigh the decline into death and darkness to which autumn would lead us. Through our own efforts, we must discover new inner resources which can help us to grow towards life and light. Easter was a time for contemplating the resurrection of the body, and now, at the opposite pole of the year, a resurrection experience for the soul is needed as counter force to autumnal decay in the world.
As one of the English Quarter Days, Michaelmas has long been a time of new beginning’s, when contracts were renewed between landlord and tenant, between employer and employee. In the past, hiring fairs were held at this time, where farm labourers and domestic servants offered themselves for work. Universities still begin their year at Michaelmas. So ‘taking up a new task’ has long been a theme for this season, and the task Michael offered us all when he cast the great dragon into the earth, can become very real in our lives whenever we wish to take a new step on our inner journey – to raise ourselves a little above our nature. Then we discover that ‘ into the earth’ means also into us, for we are immediately caught up in a battle with weight, the inflexibility of the hidden ‘dragon’ in our own being.
Michael beckons us to find the spirit to come alive through the dying year. The flashing meteor showers are said to be the sword he wields for us; each falling star is made of iron- the iron we need to strengthen the resolution of the heart. The seed-thoughts of the summer can be harvested now as deeds – to find their place in the world among people, to generate a life of their own that goes on into the future.”