Festivals and rituals prompt us to bring consciousness to what we all experience instinctively in our daily lives. These equally include cycles of the seasons and our connections to the natural, and our experiences of humanity and spirit. Steiner School festivals value our community’s shared social expression of these experiences, and the power of bringing consciousness to a mood, a quality or a value. These values exist around us all the time, but rituals help us approach them intentionally, and together.
Children experience the passage of time very differently to adults. Festivals play a role in marking time, subdividing the year, orienting the child in time and community. In festivals, each child has a role to play; they create the festival, and receive it at the same time. They are both powerful ritual-makers and holders, and at the same time, participants in rhythms that have been set by things far greater than the individual.
The following festivals and events mark the cycle of the year, at Milkwood:
Class 1 Ceremony: The first day of Class 1 marks a significant milestone for children in Steiner Schools. By the end of Kindergarten, with 6 years of play in learning spaces that are designed to replicate domestic life, children are ready for their first year of formal learning. This move to a classroom is a momentous occasion that we ritualise through a Class 1 ceremony. Children walk through an archway of arms created by the older children, farewelling their Kindergarten and entering their new Class 1.
Smoking Ceremony: Milkwood Steiner School is situated on Larrakia country. We acknowledge the Larrakia people as the owners of this land and acknowledge the privilege of teaching and learning on Larrakia country. We acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded. We seek to be guided by Indigenous people in order to contribute to healing the wrongs of the past on this land. Traditionally, Smoking Ceremonies help us to let go of things we are carrying that no longer serve us. This ritual marks the beginning of a new year and demonstrates Milkwood’s commitment to honouring the traditional practices for new beginnings, by the traditional owners of Larrakia Nation.
Mayilema: In the season known by Larrakia as Mayilema, Betbiyan (Flatback Turtle) are laying eggs. On the Easter full moon, Ngaydiboerra (turtle eggs) are collected responsibly, with only a few taken from each nest. The flowering of Mayilema (Speargrass) signifies the start of Biyinba (goose egg) collection on the floodplains. Knock’em down storms knock the Speargrass over and mark the end of the wet season. During this season, our families may be observing Nowruz, Passover, Holi, Kha b-Nisan and Easter, and themes of rebirth, new life, freedom and emancipation are with our community, culturally, spiritually and cosmically. We seek to bring an experience to our children, of these qualities from nature and culture, to create a sense of ritual and reverence for the season, and to bring form and consciousness to the impressions they are receiving from the world around them. On the day of the Mayilema Festival, our school day takes place on the beach. We cook on a fire, play in the sand and rockpools. Engaging with Traditional Knowledge is central to this day, with guest teachers working with languages, dreaming stories, songs and dance.
Lantern Festival: The Winter Solstice occurs in Larrakia country, in the season of Dinidjanggama, heavy dew time. The Winter Solstice is the moment in time when one of the Earth’s poles has its maximum tilt away from the Sun. It marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the Sun is at its lowest daily maximum elevation in the sky. The Winter Solstice has been revered as an auspicious day for many cultures over time, marked by festivals and rituals which symbolise the death and rebirth of the Sun, and the beginning of the lengthening of days. During Dinidjanggama, we experience our coldest time of year, a time for burning grass, a time when Magpie Geese are feeding with their young, Woolybutt and Stringybark eucalypts flowering, and sugarbag (native bee nectar) harvested from tree hollows. Dugong is hunted for its meat – in the old days, this was done sustainably by Larrakia in dapdapma, dugout canoes, with harpoon handles made from Eucalyptus/Bloodwood trees and a point made of Ironwood or Turkeybush. Newcomers to the Top End are surprised to see our children wearing beanies and rugging up, as the temperatures reach an icy low of 20 Degrees Celsius. It’s a time of year when our infants can be swaddled, we sit around the fire, turn off the fan for a few nights and enjoy the comfort of warm foods. Through the rituals of our lantern songs and a night time lantern spiral walk, we instil a sense of reverence and a Winter Soul mood in our work, modelling a tradition that reminds us all to find light in the darkness, experience stillness, give care and nourishment to our community and support a deep connection to cosmic and seasonal cycles.
Michaelmas: In European traditions, Michaelmas is a festival of will. Michaelmas is named for the Archangel Michael, conqueror of the powers of darkness and the harvester of all deeds of the souls of humankind. Rituals and imagery in this festival present a fierce dragon as a mighty beast to overcome through the development of courage and free will. This festival emerges from European traditions, ritualised as a harvest festival. On Larrakia land, Michaelmas happens at a time of regeneration. Fierce fires have scorched the land. From this blackened landscape, miraculous regrowth begins, first as brave bursts of cycad greenery, and then with the vitality of kapok, calytrix and currajong flowering. Through these archetypes, and through our connection to country, culture and community, we bring awareness to the dragons and fires we each need to rise up against and tame. Every year, as individuals and as a community, we are called upon to face our dragons. We summon courage we may not have expected ourselves capable of. We grow and transform. Milkwood’s Michaelmas festival is a whole school play, harvest festival and community picnic.
Bush Dance: The Bush Dance is a community engagement and fund-raising event hosted by Milkwood. The Bush Dance brings a focus to oral traditions and storytelling through music and dance, with opportunities for students, alumni and families to contribute to the event through cooking, art and design, music, craft, and service.
Recital: The end of year recital is led by the music program. The recital includes performances by the school choirs and ensembles and ends with a community singalong and shared lunch in each class. There is a strong element of giving in this festival. A performance is a gift to the audience. Gift making, card making and gratitude practices are strong themes in each class towards the end of the year.
Nesting Week: In the final days of school, it’s time to finish all that has been started. A year’s worth of learning, captured in the craft, art and book work we have created, is carefully packaged into a portfolio. Children take it home to share with their families. Student Learning Profiles are distributed. We share meals, give and receive gifts, celebrate all the efforts and focus of last week’s recital. We take part in ceremonies farewelling our oldest students as they prepare to graduate into Middle School. And we “make our beds”. Each child sets their learning space for the year to come, sanding and polishing their own desks, sharpening pencils, creating a welcoming learning space that will invite their future selves in. Teachers are setting up their classrooms for the year to come. Children help in all the ways they can.