by KWS Kindergarten Teachers
“I go with my little lantern,
my lantern goes with me.
In heaven the stars are shining,
on Earth are shining we.”
Along with many other Waldorf Schools both here in the US and across Europe, KWS carries the tradition of celebrating the festival of Martinmas with a Lantern Walk during the evening on (or near) November 11th in the Early Childhood section as well as First and Second Grade. But what does a Roman soldier who was born in the 4th century have to do with life in 2023?
The story of St. Martin is one of empathy and generosity. It begins at the city gates in Amiens, France, where St. Martin’s cavalry regiment was stationed. A poor man dressed in rags begged all passersby to have pity on him, but no one bothered to look at him. Martin approached and saw the man shivering. A young soldier, he had no money and nothing else to share and so he took off his cloak and used his weapon to slice it down the middle. Half he gave to the poor man, and half he wore back to his barracks. Now we, as the season darkens, begin to turn inward and ponder such questions as how do I find compassion within? Where is the balance between caring for self and caring for others? It is the work of the adults to ponder the festivals in whatever intellectual, spiritual, or personal way we choose.
For the young child, however, we offer a much simpler gesture and experience as we know that this is the way the children learn most deeply. We do not bring them the story of St. Martin until second grade. However, we do make handmade lanterns in the weeks leading up to the lantern walk and sing lantern songs. Their beautiful images carry us throughout the day as we bake, walk in the forest, and work on our projects. Slowly the image builds in the class community of how “we go through the land, like the wild geese band, children of one light are we.”
The Lantern Walk is a simple, reverent event bringing an opportunity for everyone to sense the quiet power of their own inner light; to ponder deeply, wordlessly, their role as a spark of light in the dark of night. It is a night of quiet joy as we walk peacefully along a luminaria-lit path. The children carry their handmade lanterns and all those walking sing the traditional lantern songs that encourage us to be that warmth and light for ourselves and for others.
Martinmas celebrates hope, kindness, and being called to help others. This is a contemplative, uniquely individual festival in which we may solidify the courage we strove for during the harvest season (Michaelmas) and allow it to grow into soul confidence. Often after the walk in the following days, a new urge arises in us to see how we can give to others. In finding our sense of self, we find trust that our inner light will lead us toward taking care of each other. The children do this naturally without so much as a word from teachers and for many weeks, we often hear the joyful refrain of ‘This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”