The four main Christian Festivals celebrated in Camphill are Christmas, Easter, St John’s and Michaelmas. They occur around the solstices and equinoxes because they were Christianised from the old celebrations by the early Church Fathers. In the Northern Hemisphere these celebrations are closely connected with the seasons.
The Christian year traditionally starts on Advent Sunday, four Sundays before Christmas — we mark this day with our Advent Garden. On each successive Sunday during Advent we light one more of the four candles on a wreath or log. Lighting the candles brings light and warmth to winter days as well as bringing an awareness of Advent into our homes to herald the birth of Christ. Advent should also help us to remember that Christmas starts on 24th December, and not before!
Usually the students and co-workers perform a play with a Christmas theme. At the end of term we have a Christmas celebration and party before the students go home for the holidays.
Christmas continues until Epiphany (6th January — when the Christmas tree is taken down), which marks the celebration of the visit of the Magi/Wise Men/Kings (as recorded in Matthew II). The Western Church started celebrating it as such during the 4th century; however, in the East, where it originated, Epiphany celebrates the baptism of Christ by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
Unlike the adult Camphill communities we are on holiday on 6th January, but we celebrate this theme and keep our Three Kings’ Candles (red, blue and green) until Candlemas (2nd February) — which really is the end of the Christmas season — and then natural light takes over. (More on Candlemas later!)
According to the Church year, Easter begins 6½ weeks before Easter Sunday with Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. Lent (an old English word meaning ‘lengthen’, referring to the days getting longer) is a time of preparation for Easter — originally because this is when people joined the Church by adult baptism or confirmation, so had to prepare. Lent is often marked by giving up something. (However, It is a shock to many of our students to discover that the Bible does not say you need to give up chocolate for Lent! Indeed, many of us think that taking up, e.g. an activity or attitude, is better than giving up.)
The death of Christ on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday are the cornerstones of Christianity. However, to appreciate the significance of this it is essential to consider the events of the whole of Holy Week, so our Easter Festival starts on Palm Sunday — with a boundary walk — and continues throughout the week. Artwork produced during Holy Week may depict the hare (history actually suggests that the ‘Easter bunny’ was originally a hare) or the egg, both ancient symbols of the spring, renewal and growth, or the theme of people journeying to seek truth and enlightenment.
The Easter Season continues to Ascension Day, which is why we keep the egg decorations up until then. This celebrates Christ’s ascent to the ‘Heavens’ (Acts of the Apostles I) — meaning that all of mankind can now experience the Christ Spirit. We always go on an outing, often up a hill or to one of Yorkshire’s many abbeys.
Whitsun, 10 days after Ascension, celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit on the Disciples (Acts of Apostles II) who were then able to be understood by the many people from diverse countries who were assembled in Jerusalem. We regard this as the real ‘end’ of the Easter festival. Its true meaning is looking to a future when people are not divided by language and culture, but united in a common humanity which includes a respect for our differences.
‘St John’s Season’ starts with the Birth of John the Baptist (24th June — the old Midsummer’s Day) and ends with his Beheading (29th August) (Mark VI). John’s message was change your ways for the coming of the Lord, especially by putting others first. The Summer is a good time to reflect on this as, theoretically, it’s too hot for much activity.
The St John’s Fire is pre-Christian; ancient peoples watched the sun reach its high point and lit bonfires to encourage it to shine and ripen their crops. It is found in many cultures today as a celebration of the summer solstice. It was Christianised to symbolise purification. We celebrate by having a play, a bonfire and a barbecue.
This celebrates the victory of Archangel Michael over Satan (Devil/Dragon/Serpent) (Revelations XII). Michael cast the dragon out of Heaven on to Earth — hence it is experienced by mankind. Michaelmas is about recognising the ‘dragon’ in ourselves and working to overcome/control/master it. Ultimately, like Whitsun, it is a festival about the future — when people find ways of overcoming their differences peacefully without resorting to violence. Also like Whitsun it is very important in Camphill, but little celebrated elsewhere. We always connect it to a celebration of the Harvest and have a Harvest Meal activity with parents and friends.
Candlemas(2nd February) marks the presentation of baby Jesus in the Temple, where Simeon held the baby and called him a ‘Light to the World’. It takes its name from the blessing of candles for use in church through the coming year. On Candlemas night, many people place lighted candles in their windows at home.
Candlemas has another aspect that makes it important in Camphill and anywhere working out of Biodynamic agriculture. It is the time when the crystalline forms in the earth are most active. Rudolf Steiner suggested that it is the time of year to turn our thoughts to the earth. Thus we celebrate it as a land festival, usually by putting candles in the earth. Candlemas also marks the end of winter and celebrates the first stirrings of Spring.
Halloween, All Hallows and All Souls
A pre-Christian festival marking the beginning of winter and also a time when we on Earth can most closely experience those who have died. Most people now celebrate only Halloween (meaning All Hallows’ Eve) on 31st October; we often celebrate this with a Halloween party. But we also always include All Hallows (or All Saints; 1st November) and All Souls (2nd November). However, the whole of November is a time when many people feel a strong connection to those who have died and we have an artistic evening, usually in the last week, to mark this.
Other ‘minor’ festivals
We celebrate several Saints Days, most of which occur in the winter. There are certainly others that we could include, and all Camphill Communities tend to have their own favourites!
Saint Francis and St Martin
Saint Francis and St Martin have many similarities — both gave up ‘comfortable’ lives to serve God through helping social outcasts. They were both very humble and were fundamental in the impulse of people living together in communities. St Francis (remembered on 4th October) is the Patron Saint of Animals and also Patron Saint of the Environment. On St Martin’s Day (11th November) we remember Martin, known for his gentleness and ability to bring warmth and light to those in need, by having a lantern walk.
Saint Paul (remembered on 25th January) was just the opposite — very forceful and sure of his beliefs. He was converted on the road to Damascus and travelled tens of thousands of miles around the Mediterranean spreading the word of Christ. He never gave up despite being thrown in to prison several times for saying what he thought.
St Nicholas (6th December), who devoted his life to helping the sick and needy, is popular in many parts of Europe, especially Holland (many children in Europe receive gifts on this day) and Santa Lucia (13th December), associated with the winter festival of light, is popular in Scandinavia, especially Sweden. Both festivals have to do with realising that Christmas is about giving without expecting to receive.
The passage from John’s Gospel (John XI) seems to indicate that the Raising of Lazarus (remembered on 23rd February) was really the first event leading up to the Easter. It was upon hearing of this miracle that the chief priests and Pharisees determined to bring about the death of Jesus. Although we are often on half-term holiday on this date, we celebrate this as a Community when we can.