“Dragons were scary to Martin and very big. How would a little knight win a battle with a dragon?” — from “A Dragon Dance” in Martin & Sylvia: Learning Days
As September draws to a close, you might find evidence of a celebration that includes dragons, harvest foods, music, laughter, and a thrilling story. If you do, congratulations! You’ve stumbled upon a Michaelmas celebration!
What is Michaelmas?
Michaelmas is celebrated by some churches, some European countries, and occasionally by groups of police or the military, but you’ll find most Michaelmas celebrations held in Waldorf Schools around the world.
It is a very big event in Waldorf schools, in large part because of the timing: at the end of September (once the school year is in full swing), the newness of the school rhythms has worn off. Everyone feels a wave of fatigue that comes with the onset of Autumn (in the Northern Hemisphere — the mood is different in the Southern Hemisphere). Everyone needs a little dose of energy — and Michaelmas delivers!
Many people don’t know about Michaelmas and give a quizzical look when you mention the September 29 holiday. People who DO know about Michaelmas tend to celebrate it enthusiastically — because at its root, Michaelmas is a festival of enthusiasm.
Whether you are a part of a Waldorf School or not, whether you have heard of Saint Michael or not, you can have your own Michaelmas celebration as well! So follow along as we learn a little about the history of this beloved festival and how we can draw inspiration from its lovely traditions.
What is the history of Michaelmas?
Michaelmas is named in honor of Saint Michael, the archangel mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament, and the Quran who is most famous for fighting and defeating evil in the form of a dragon.
Like the festival, Saint Michael is not well known — but to those who know him, he’s a big deal.
In the center of the festival is a children’s play based on the story of Saint George — who also fights a dragon! George is a different saint, and in fact, has a different way of defeating the dragon — because in the Saint George version, the dragon is not killed, but tamed.
This is an important distinction and one that is best suited to the season.
What does Michaelmas MEAN?
The metaphor of taming the dragon is like learning to harness nature’s pure energy. I talk about aspects of this in this blog post about emotions and in this video about dragons. The natural world is an infinite source of energy (fire, rushing water, wind, sun) and if we can learn to work with the natural world, we will always be cared for. This is a vital message for children: when we are stewards of the world, the world will always provide for us.
This truly is a thing to celebrate: take care of the world and it will take care of you.
Simple, yet deeply profound.
Thus at Michaelmas celebrations, you will find food, dancing, music, games, and a LOT of enthusiasm. In the old times, festival days were held to enjoy the fruits of the labor and to say thank you. Most of our ancestors’ time was spent working to provide food and shelter. Though many of us don’t need to work as hard as our ancestors once did, it is still vital to enjoy ourselves and to say thank you with our smiling faces.
Here are a few fun ideas to help you incorporate the Michaelmas Festival and this expression of gratitude into your fall plans:
At the heart of every festival is community because it is only in community that we can thrive. People are social animals and children know this intimately, so use Michaelmas as a reason to gather!
Here are some ideas to incorporate:
- Use Michaelmas as a reason to gather — invite your friends and family to join you!
- Prepare autumn “harvest” foods like apples and squashes.
- Learn a group dance.
- Play movement games or hold races.
- Sing together and make music.
- Put on a play.
Explore (and have fun with!) Dragon Stories
There are many ways to play with the dragon image that is so common in Michaelmas celebrations. In “A Dragon Dance,” Martin and Ollie learn this and create their own way of celebrating!
The dragon needs not be fought, defeated, or even tamed if that narrative doesn’t fit with your family’s values. What I believe the dragon offers is a metaphor of pure energy — raw emotion, unbridled enthusiasm, and a wild sense of fun.
Use the dragon as an inspiration for having a good time — and your Michaelmas will surely be a success!
- Craft a Dragon Puppet like Educating Emery.
- Listen to some of our favorite Sparkle Stories about Dragons.
- Bake a delicious Michaelmas treat, like this dragon cake from Bella Luna Toys.
- Make a Dragon Leaf Craft! Start by gathering leaves on a nature walk, and then use them to create your own dragon-inspired masterpiece (like this project from Myriad Natural Toys).
About the Author
David Sewell McCann
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade – the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through painting, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf elementary class teacher and parent, he has developed a four step method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through this website.