Traditional May Pole dancing featuring HVS students. Photo by Catdodge Photography.
by Karin Almquist, Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School, Grade 6 class teacher

If you have chanced to wander into Hawthorne Valley Waldorf School’s (HVS) recess field these past couple weeks, you are sure to have spotted a rough-hewn pole bedecked by silky ribbons in all the colors of the rainbow, shimmering slightly in the breeze. If you were lucky, you might have spied a circle of children, each clutching a ribbon and moving together towards the center and periphery, circling each other and the pole to the energetic strains of accordion music. They are practicing for our upcoming fair. After a long winter filled with cold dark days, grey skies and hoary frost, May has arrived! The trees are budding, green grass beckons, and the first flowers open themselves to greet the sun. The time has come to dance and sing. Please join us on Saturday as we offer these dances at our May Fair!

The children in Grades 1-4 and Grade 8 have prepared ribbon dances that increase with complexity as developmentally appropriate. Those in Grades 5, 6, and 7 have learned traditional Morris Dances, dances that involve hopping, stomping, skipping, and clashing sticks aimed quite literally at waking the earth up after its long slumber and preparing it to accept the sowing of the springtime seeds.

The Rhythms of Seasons

Such springtime celebrations warm our souls and hearken back to the quaint European villages of yore. But they are so much more. Rhythm is at the heart of Waldorf Education. Our school day is designed to offer opportunities for healthy breathing; the weekly schedule is regular and predictable allowing the child to experience time and feel the passage of the week. Perhaps most important of all is the festival life of the school. In the modern age with our climate-controlled buildings, convenient electrical lights, and complex plumbing, it has grown easier for us to sleep walk through our days and months barely noticing the change in light and mood. In contrast to this, by intentionally marking season change, by joyfully celebrating the yearly movement of Mother Earth around the sun, by actively noting our longer days and the arrival of flora and fauna, and marking how this affects our mood, we engage more fully in our humanity.

Throughout the year, HVS provides our community with festivals in order that our students might become encouraged to wake up, to join together, and to celebrate our year’s journey. Michaelmas Day, Martinmas Day, Advent Garden, Yuletide Fair, and May Day are all part of our annual experience as humans — living, learning, and working in our little valley, in our corner of the great blue planet called Earth. We strive to engage our students as active participants in life on Earth in order to best support them as observers of life and learners in the classroom.

Students wearing flower crowns watch May Pole dancing. Photo by Catdodge Photography.
History of May Pole Festivals

Throughout human history, cultures have employed rituals that reflect the patterns of nature and mark transitions for individuals or groups. May poles, like all towers, spires, minarets, or steeples, call attention to the vertical plane and pull our attention upwards. They help to bridge that distance between heaven and earth, pulling humanity up toward the skies, and effecting a reverent mood. May poles also mark a point in space and in time—a place to focus our attention and our energy. On the horizontal plane, a May pole provides a context for human interaction, a dance that moves from the periphery to the center and back. A ribbon dance quite literally weaves the community together allowing for each strand to be both distinct and part of an interwoven masterpiece. The rainbow colors of the ribbons and the blooming flowers and greenery which entwines both May poles and the May crowns decorating each human head, hearken us to the world of life. The drab days of winter are behind us.

For millennia, humans have engaged the coming of Spring by gathering together and rejoicing. In Roman times, May Day was associated with Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers and Spring. For the Ancient Greeks, it was Persephone. Garlands of flowers were gathered and carried to her temple by exuberant, brightly dressed youths who wound their sweet blossoms ’round the huge marble column inside the temple. In the Celtic world, the Festival of Beltane provided a context for this same Spring experience. Throughout Medieval times, villagers from Scandinavia, England, and Europe erected May Poles in the center of their villages and held elaborate May Faires, opportunities to step outside the normal day and celebrate.

We hope you all are able to take a moment in the coming days and month to breathe in the Spring. Gather those abundant blooms! Dance with each other and celebrate!

By strengthening our relationship with the Earth, we will better find each other.

Couple shops for plants stopping to chat with a small child at May Day celebration. Photo by Catdodge Photography. Couple shops for plants stopping to chat with a small child at May Day celebration. Photo by Catdodge Photography.