Notes of Lina's talk for the 'preparation for Christmas' gathering held the 11h of November 2015.
The days around the winter solstice, that have become the time to celebrate Christmas had an important significance in many pre Christian religions. During this time the victory of light over darkness was celebrated in the Egyptian, Teutonic, Jewish, Celtic and Roman cultures. For those with no religion beliefs this is still the coming back of the light. The 21 - 24th of December are the longest nights of the year in this part of the world. After this the days get longer and longer.
‘The sign of Christmas is a star, a light in the darkness. The meaning of Christmas is the birth of a new self, mothered by our humanness and for those who believe, fathered by the Spirit. Mary symbolizes the feminine within us all, which is impregnated by the spirit. Her function is to say Yes, I will, I will receive, I will accept with humbleness my holy function’, (‘A Return to Love’ by Marianne Williamson).
Parenting is a holy function too. Our children offer us the opportunity to grow into better people. Children awake in us the divine that lives everywhere in everything and gives us the hope and the strength to accept our crisis as human beings. They help us on our journey to transform this crises into opportunities for learning as they also do.
In our western Christian world at this time we celebrate the birth of the child Jesus, 2015 years ago this year. Not that I suggest this is accurate in any way but still that is what we celebrate.
When I was a child at my parent’s home in the countryside of Madrid, this was described to me as the story of this humble and kind couple: Joseph and Mary who received their little baby on a cold winter night in a manger. Sheltered by a compassionate hostel owner in her stable, at a time when lots of people had to travel to this little town of Bethlehem obeying government policies and there was no room left for them.
I am sure other words were used but this was the story behind. There was a journey by donkey, freezing rivers to be crossed, cold nights spent under the stars, shepherds, sheep, an ox. On top of it all singing angels, mysterious stars and the three Maggi / Kings from Orient. It was a deep and fascinating story for me that happened so far in time and at the same time again and again every year.
‘In addition to looking backwards at the event ‘then’, at the birth of Jesus child in the stall in Bethlehem, parents should also acquire an inner relationship to Christmas ‘today’. Our celebration of this festival with the children should always take into account this double aspect. The Christmas happening is an event in space and time. Preparing the house for Christmas should be a sign that we are prepared to give a space in us for Christmas, for the birth of the New.’ (will find the title and author for you)
Little children are connected to our heart forces primarily and also to our thoughts. They perceive the world around them in a non-intellectual way. Instead they perceived these ‘moral forces’ in their physical bodies. Steiner suggests that the forces and impulses that live in the Child¡s environment play an important part in shaping the Child’s physical body. This is the reason why it is very important that we are aware of the thoughts and feelings that live behind the things we do around them. They don’t need or would enjoy our explanations but it is very important that we know why are we doing what we do and how we do it. This is also the reason behind the importance of allowing the children to spend plenty time in Nature.
In preparation for tonight I have asked myself the same questions that I bring for you:
-What do I bring back from our own experience as children when I prepare Christmas as parents?
-What is Universal about the celebration of Christmas and how do I express this.
-What do the gifts mean for me, the sharing of nice food, the decoration of the house, the tree, the crib…
-What do I know about the origin of these rituals?
Like with everything we do in this house when we look to make it meaningful for the children, we look at what do these rituals mean for us. What do we want to communicate to the children? At this age this can hardly be done with words, stories and songs accompany our intentions but it is even more important the mood that all these things open up in our hearts. The children will then grasp and imitate with intense interest and devotion.
A really good reliable and also universal, place to look for inspiration is nature. During these weeks before that precede the winter solstice nature has gone very quiet and bare. The trees show their bare branches, there are no birds singing those spring songs and the nights are dark and long. It is a time to slow down, to be quieter and to spend time listening to our hearts. Time to sit by the fire and read winter stories. Instead of turning on the lights in the evenings perhaps we could let the nightfall show its face and light candles, always making sure they are in a safe place out of the reach of the children. In general it is a very good practice to protect the children to the excesses of electric lights before going to bed allowing the body to prepare itself for the sleep. Once I read that electric light is relate to the intelect and candle light to the heart.
On clear nights we can bring the children outside before they go to bed and together watch the stars shinning bright. This kind of experiences will provide them with the images that are in the songs and stories of Christmas.
This coming Sunday is the first Advent Sunday. The word 'advent' comes from the Latin word ‘avenir’, which means ‘to arrive’.
‘Advent is a time of preparation which finds its fulfillment in Christmas’. This is a very important time for the children as the quality of or Christmas is directly connected to the journey we walk at this time. We have to consciously choose to do this journey with and for our children. Mary on her way to Bethlehem is the archetype of the human soul willingness to become, to grow and prepare for the birth of that which wants to come.
The calm and quietness that is needed for every inner becoming is under attack everywhere today specially during advent. Today it can only be achieved through conscious effort.
If we allow ourselves and expose the children to the rush that has become the norm around us during this time, then Christmas, a noisy race for the acquisition of all those material things associated with happiness, is over before getting there and we have miss it.
The love that accompanies every gift is a reflection of the love, which flows from heaven and our connection to the divine love. This is a time to introduce children to the careful and loving preparation (even the wrappings) of presents. If this activity is filled with joy, warmth and love foe the recipient, then the child feels enriched himself. That is the genuine preparation for Christmas. For every Christmas present should maintain its connection with the great Christmas gift that has come to us all and is renewed every Christmas: Love.
December 24th is also Adam and Eve’s day. Here we have the connection with the original old celebrations mentioned around 1605 that included the paradise tree with its red apples. Our Christmas tree represents a new beginning. The great perfumed needles of a fir tree in the depths of winter represent the life, which always continues. The earliest decorations were apples, paper roses and baked sweet bread. Candles were added only later. Today we can’t imagine the tree without lights. Light is love someone said, when decorating the tree we should always ask ourselves: what is the meaning for me?
Father Christmas and the Three Kings, all of them old men with long white beards are age old like the forces of nature and also represent the invisible world that coexists with the world we see. Santa Claus helpers come from the etheric world, they represente the spirit that lives behind nature. The gnomes and the flying reindeer come from the world of the astral. They represent the forces of the soul. The possibility of overcoming the limitations of the material world like gravity and close doors. They also talk to us of the cooperation and the connection with the world that we don’t see. Father Winter, Santa and the Three Kings come from the depths of time like the powers that carry the mountains and the wide seas.
They leave their gifts in the children's shoes and stockings. Both are wrappings of our feet which, even today in our mobile age, still carry us on or path through life into our future destiny. Father Christmas brings gifts for the future on the way. He puts weight into the stockings and so helps to strengthen the children’s relationship with the earth. If we can open our hearts to all the wonders that are present during this time we can also receive those gifts that will help us on our journey Home.
This would have been the main Christmas memory of mine. In Spain the tree and Santa Claus didn’t exist when I was a little girl and even my sons didn’t know who this Santa was when, during our first Christmas in Ireland, they were asked again and again: Is Santa coming? They could not read the hidden question of: are you good boy?.
We make mistakes and there are accidents but we are all good. It is very important that during these first years we nurture and protect the Goodness of the World and all that lives in it for our children.
The preparation for the crib started with the first Advent Sunday when my mother got the box with all the little clay figures, sheets of cork for the mountains, silver paper for the river and shinny blue paper for the sky. We lived in the countryside and went out in the bare fields around the house to fetch moss and stones.
Later on when I had my children and join the Waldorf School nearby, I learned from the kindergarten teachers other ways to set up the crib for the children. These had hidden messages that connected all in more deep ways. A rhythm was incorporated that allows the children to walk this journey through the four weeks of Advent.
The 1st Sunday we lay the blue clothe for the skies above and a cover the surface (table) with a brown clothe for the earth below. Over this brown clothe we placed the stones that will give shape to the path for Mary, Joseph and the donkey. Sometimes we place a precious stone at the spot where the manger will be. Many of these Stones are little pieces of white quartz that the children bring back in their pockets from our walks in the woods. I am sure you have come across them in your laundry! We do. The stones represent the physical / mineral body that we share with the stones in our bones.
The 2nd week of Advent we place the plants: moss, bear branches, holy, ivy or whatever we find in the woods. They represent the etheric forces, the forces of life that keep us alive.
The 3rd week of Advent we placed the animals. The sheep mostly but sometimes we invite the squirrel, the fox and other favorites of the children. They represent the astral forces. Those that live in our soul and that we share with the animals.
The 4th week of Advent the Human Beings appear in the scene. Mary and Joseph first and later on the Shepherds and the Three Kings. On the 24th the child Jesus is ‘born’ and lays in the manger or in Mary’s arms and then an Angel appears in the starry sky.
During this last week Mary and Joseph walk their journey with the donkey and the calf (ox) and everyday the children hear of a different challenge that they are able to overcome with a combination of their surrender will and the help of the heavenly forces.
Mary and Joseph represent us, Human Beings on our journey to the only possible destiny, which is the experience of divine Love.
I hope these notes give you some inspiration on your holy task of celebrating Christmas with your children. I am sure there are many other ways to celebrate and to honor this time. My destiny was to experience this event as a child in a Christian family and later on I embraced the Christian values of the Waldorf education that I offered to my own children. These values are also at the core of the work I developed in Brigit’s Hearth and that we offer to the families and children who come to us.
by Lina Peláez