The Winter Festival

“The Heart of Winter”
A New Winter Festival
Thursday, December 20, 7 p.m.

WWS is pleased to invite you to our new winter festival play, "The Heart of Winter" on Thursday, December 20 at 7 p.m. “The Heart of Winter” speaks to the themes of strength and courage and warmth of heart within the cold. The play, which was written by WWS faculty members, is based on various Eastern European and Russian fairy tales, woven together and elaborated upon to create something totally new. Our hope is that, like Michaelmas, this will grow into a community event. This year, the seventh grade is proud to present this play. Other years it could be parents and faculty. The “Heart of Winter” is more than a class play, however, and the production will feature dramatic special effects, original music by the faculty, festive decorations, and more. We’re excited about this first production of The Heart of Winter” and we warmly invite you and your family will join us for this special event. (The play is suitable for all ages, but you might want to bear in mind that WWS students will see the play on Friday morning, December 21.)

About the WWS Winter Festivals

Eight years ago, the faculty began an in-depth study in preparation for reviewing and possibly re-envisioning the festivals at our school. To give guidance to the Festivals Committee, which meets weekly to plan assemblies and seasonal festivals, and to try to bring an underlying coherence to the festival celebrations of the different departments – the Children’s Garden, Lower School and High School – the College of Teachers and other interested members of the faculty began this work.

The festival life of the school is part of the invisible fabric that weaves through the experience of the students, parents, and teachers alike. The festivals give a lively and heartwarming quality to our relationship to the rhythmic cycle of the year, and offer an artistic refuge from the commercialization of holidays which surrounds us all.   This sense for the importance of our festival life has been conveyed to us in surveys with alumni and conversations in the Parent Organization meetings as well as in the faculty.
Over time we came to understand what we wanted to place at the heart of our seasonal celebrations. In the process of arriving at that understanding, we acknowledged that we have become a school for families of varying faiths and that we hope to be a school that is attractive to and welcoming of people of differing religions. Because the traditions that live at our school were deeply rooted, as traditions often are, we were hesitant to rush to change what was good in what we had developed over many years. At the same time, discomfort was growing around the overtly Christian nature of some of our celebrations. We agreed that while we did not want to turn our festivals into multicultural celebrations, we wanted to provide opportunities for sharing the religious and cultural traditions that existed within our community and beyond.  We all agreed that an enthusiastic multiculturalism belongs at our School. At the same time, we wished to create festivals with artistic substance which students and families of all religions and faiths could fully enjoy.

We saw the possibility of creating both depth of experience and universality of appeal in our festivals by placing at their center the connections that human beings can develop to the ever changing seasons. The great breathing of the year offers inspiration for the creation of artistic celebrations: expanding out into the wild abandon of color, warmth and life of summer, contrasted with the cold, still, quiet starlit nights of winter; the dramatic dying and drying out of flowering plants and tree leaves, many of which briefly flame into color with the cooler winds of fall, contrasted to the tender first green growth from the damp ground at the spring equinox. 

At the same time, through study and conversation, we saw how we must go beyond the simple following of the course of nature. Especially in fall and in winter, within ourselves we can strive to oppose the course of nature. Thus in fall we can work to develop the courage and strength of will to resist the melancholy that comes with the quickly shortening days, and in winter we can overcome the growing cold and darkness with cozy warmth and gentle candlelight. In contrast, in spring we should give ourselves over to the renewal brought by nature. We can follow how gently and quietly one tender shoot after another pokes its head above ground and then how the lightly toned spring green of the trees becomes a robust green with summer in all its warmth and colorful blossoms. As the seasons turn and nature’s forces wane, we can try to take into ourselves the glorious moods of spring and summer. It is this expansive joy, warmth, and light of summer that we want to rediscover intimately within ourselves in the midst of winter – near the longest night of the year which is the winter solstice. This year, in the play which will be offered for our winter festival, we picture this intimate warmth as a magical garden discovered in the midst of chilly, silent, snow covered fields and woods. This magic is available to all whose compassion and warmth of heart open their capacity to perceive. 

In our work together, we began a slow journey of transforming and re-envisioning our festival celebrations to make them more universal. We always intended our Christian festivals to nourish the hearts of children in a universal spirit, and we now wished to bring a similar depth of feeling to new festivals conceived in a seasonal spirit. Michaelmas has always had this foundation for us, as has been conveyed in Bulletin articles over the years. What had been called the Advent Spiral is now the Evergreen Garden with its quiet expression of a gentle, expanding light – an inward light. Certain smaller festivals we have let go.  We have reworked others.

Naturally, the large question of whether to continue to perform the Oberufer plays was raised. Parents who have been at our school before this year know that these are traditional Christmas plays that were performed by faculty members for the students in the first Waldorf School in Stuttgart.  The performance of one or two of these three medieval mystery plays has long been a beloved tradition here. Our Waldorf school began questioning the appropriateness of these plays for a diverse student body at about the same time as many other Waldorf schools. In fact, we have held on to this particular tradition longer than other schools in part because of its deep roots in our school community and because our school has done such a beautiful job of presenting these artistic and wisdom-filled plays.

After much discussion in the Lower School Department, where the Oberufer plays have lived most strongly, and in the College of Teachers, the College agreed that this year would be the year to try something new. In the November 21 bulletin a description of this year’s Winter celebration appeared.The play and festival were conceived over the summer by a dedicated group of teachers and is now being supported by this group as well as the seventh grade, the Festivals Committee, and contributions from other classes. Many of us are excited at this development and hope that we are giving birth to a new tradition that will grow and thrive at WWS.  When the College agreed to this change, we said that this year and then again in the winter of 2014, we would try something new and that next year, the winter of 2013, we will again perform the Oberufer play (or plays). After these three years, the faculty will review our experience and make a decision regarding how to celebrate this time of year in the future.

The faculty hopes that you will join us on Thursday, December 20 at 7 p.m. to see the play, “The Heart of Winter.” The students will enjoy an even fuller celebration on Friday before they leave for the Winter Break. 

As always, please pass on to members of the Festival Committee or me any reactions, thoughts, or feelings you may have about our new direction.  

Natalie Adams
Faculty Chair