The Season of Light

As we approach the Winter Solstice on December 21, Berkshire Waldorf School, with Waldorf schools all over the world, enters the Season of Light.

During this time of the shortest day and longest night of the year, we celebrate the spirit of peace and joyful anticipation, bringing light and warmth into the darkness with candles, holiday lights and observance of the moon and stars.

For inner warmth and light, we take comfort in family, friends, food and traditions of giving. 

Berkshire Waldorf School celebrates these qualities through a number of rich, reverent celebrations and festivals.

The Spiral of Light

Lighting the Darkness

BWS kindergartners and younger Grades students participate in the Spiral of Light, which brings a mood of quiet reverence to the season. Each child walks a spiral path made of evergreen boughs strewn with minerals and crystals. As they reach the center, children light their “apple candle” at the central candle, and place it along the path home, to light the way for friends.

Elementary and Middle School students mark the Season of Light with age-appropriate festivals and rituals that come out of the learning content from each grade. These speak to children with soul-satisfying comfort and peace. Practicing warmth and joy at a dark time centers us all in strength and hope.

Advent in Four Weeks

In Waldorf schools, children from all backgrounds participate in the month-long observance of “Waldorf Advent,” anticipating the rebirth of the light.

Grades and Middle School students gather on Monday mornings in December for special songs, stories and verses, marked each week by the lighting of one more candle in the Advent wreath, to balance the increasing darkness outside. This year, the first day of Hanukkah falls on a Monday, and students will light the menorah as well as the wreath candles.

Each week of “Waldorf Advent” honors one of the kingdoms of nature—minerals, plants, animals and human beings—and this theme is brought into classroom activities and decorations as well.

As the weeks progress, the Waldorf Advent wreath is decorated with crystals and shells, flowers, small animals (some hand sculpted by students out of beeswax) and people. Early childhood students celebrate these festivals in their classrooms. 

Waldorf Verse for Advent

The first light of Advent is the light of stones.

The light that shines in crystals, seashells and bones.

The second light of Advent is the light of plants.

Plants that reach up to the sun, and in the breezes dance.

The third light of Advent is the light of beasts.

It shines in the greatest, it shines in the least.

The fourth light of Advent is the light of humankind.

The light of love, the light of thought, to give and understand.

Celebrating Together

All BWS families are invited to gather in the auditorium on Thursday, December 22 at 11am, where our month of festivities culminates in a holiday assembly to celebrate the Season of Light as a community.

Berkshire Waldorf School faculty and staff wish your family a beautiful holiday season, and memories that bring renewed warmth and light throughout the years. 

Happy Holidays!

Snow and stars from Ms. Alessandra’s  First Grade chalkboard

Other festive days on the BWS calendar during the Season of Light:

Tuesday, December 6th, Saint Nicholas Day The story of a wise and generous person, Nicholas, captivates the imagination of our youngest students, and brings the warmth of caring and giving to this season of celebration.

Early Childhood classes receive the surprise of a basket of treats that Nicholas brings (golden walnuts and clementines are favorites), and sometimes catch a glimpse of him passing across the landscape on his journey of good will.

Nicholas will visit children in the Grade School this year. Many of the children have heard the story of this wise person, also know as St. Nicholas, in their classrooms, but his visit is a special surprise for them. Nicholas represents one’s “higher self” to the children, embodying goodness, understanding and wisdom. Nicholas carries a golden book, and he reads a personal message to each Grade School student.

Sunday and Monday, December 11 and 12, The Spiral of Light

Kindergartners and younger Grades classes participate in the Spiral of Light.

Tuesday, December 13, Santa Lucia Day

In our school, this festival and the visit from Nicholas come out of Second Grade studies of “Golden Hearts,” people who live their values. We follow in the tradition of a day widely celebrated in Sweden on the feast day of the “Queen of Light,” who brought food to the hungry during a time of famine. Second Graders perform this seasonal role, dressing in white with candlelight “crowns,” and visiting throughout school, including Early Childhood, to bring each class freshly baked saffron buns and a song to light the darkness.

December 21, 3:15 pm, Shepherd’s Play

The Christmas image is one of a humble birth surrounded by love. In the Christian tradition, Christ’s birth is celebrated just after the winter solstice, as the light of earth is returning. This humorous and joyful “Oberufer” Christmas story has been played for decades at Waldorf schools throughout the world, and is performed at  BWS by faculty as a gift to students, families and the community.

The Joy of Giving

In the Berkshires, when the earth falls quiet under winter snows, we look forward to the sun’s return and lengthening days, and look inward to reflect on the passing year.

As a community, we take comfort in the light of family, food and traditions of giving. We hope this helps you understand all we do to celebrate the Season of Light at Berkshire Waldorf School.

One joy of the season – Middle Schoolers cross country ski during recess.

Happy Holidays!

Join us in celebrating the Season of Light! Winter holidays 12/23/22 through 1/8/23.

Looking forward to the Grades!

Learning in first grade with color, action, imagination.

Come learn more about the next eight years of your child’s education at this special event, where we’ll discuss:

Your participation at this in-person event includes visit to classes in progress and a saved seat at the BWS Thanksgiving Assembly (11am-12pm), for an inspiring survey of what Grades 1-8 have been learning during Fall term.

We look forward to celebrating this special moment with you!

Meet Our First Grade Teacher

Welcome Class of 2030

Berkshire Waldorf School is pleased to announce Andrew Gilligan as First Grade Class teacher for the 2022-23 school year.

Andrew Gilligan

About Mr. Gilligan

An experienced Waldorf educator, Mr. Gilligan has taught students across Elementary and Middle School grades as well as Early Childhood for the past fifteen years. He is currently the second grade class teacher at the Seattle Waldorf School. Mr. Gilligan previously worked at Meadowbrook Waldorf School in Richmond, RI, where he taught students from First Grade to Middle School. At Meadowbrook, he was a member of the Board of Trustees and the Core Teachers, acting as a leader of fiscal and pedagogical decision-making for the school.

Mr. Gilligan completed his Bachelor of Arts from the University of Vermont. He earned his Elementary Education Certificate, Waldorf Education Certificate, and Masters of Education from Antioch University New England. 

Meet Mr. Gilligan

Families whose children will be six by September 1, 2022 and interested community members are invited to meet Mr. Gilligan, with First Grade subject teachers, at our Meet the First Grade Teachers event. The meeting will be held over Zoom Saturday, January 29 at 10:30 a.m. To join this live, free, virtual event, create your account in our family portal, and select this event. To learn more, contact Admissions Director Robyn Coe at admissions@berkshirewaldorfschool.org.

Join us!

At Berkshire Waldorf School, students start with their Class Teacher in First Grade and move through the Elementary and Middle School curriculum with their class, to build strong, long-term relationships.

Berkshire Waldorf School is now accepting applications for the Class of 2030. The new family application deadline for Fall 2022 is February 1. Visit our How to Apply page to register in the parent portal, create an inquiry, register for events and access the First Grade application. (Current BWS students who will be 6 by September 1 are automatically pre-enrolled for First Grade in the Fall.)

Berkshire Waldorf School is one of over 1,000 international Waldorf schools, part of the fastest-growing independent school movement in the world. The school welcomes students from all backgrounds, and offers generous financial aid for students based on need. Happy 50th anniversary, BWS!

Holiday Fair Time!

For our school’s 50th anniversary, we’re proud to present our 49th annual Holiday Handcraft Fair, accessible to all.

There’s no place like home for the holidays, and the same goes for Berkshire holiday gifts. Our Holiday Handcraft Fair Auction offers the best of the Berkshires – local gifts, get-away packages, treats, warm and cozy wraps, toys and handcrafts, all local and ready for the holidays!

Starting November 26, and running through December 12 at 9pm, click on the link below to register, place your bids for your favorite items, and check back often, as we’ll drop new surprises throughout the auction.

The best part? Berkshire holiday gifts mean no supply chain delays or shipping. So join the fun at the Holiday Handcraft Fair Auction, good for the environment and good for our local community. Click the button below to explore! We’ve brought the best of the Berkshires to you.

All gifts ready for pickup in time for giving. Happy Holidays!

Giving Thanks

Now our minds are one.

For the first time in many months, our community gathered this week to give thanks, for the earth and the Muhhekunneuw (Muh-he-con-ok) elders and land keepers who have lived in balance and unity for 10,000 years on the sacred land on which we learn together.

Now called the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohican Nation, the first nations people of our region are alive and well in Wisconsin, and are returning to their homeland. We strive to live in relationship, respect and shared values with their community. To do that, we open our hearts and turn our minds toward listening.

Ceremonial turkey feathers and photo by Yaqui River Native Arts (Etsy).

Living Stories

At the assembly, each of the grades classes shared a little of what they have been learning during Fall term. Waldorf teachers bring all they teach to the children through story. When BWS adapted Waldorf education for COVID times, much of our learning went outside. Starting in November, when temperatures dip below freezing, we light a fire every morning for outside classes. Hearing stories around the fire is ancient learning technology, both essentially human and unforgettable.

Second grade has been learning stories from the Muh-he-con-ne-ok (Mohican, now known as the Stockbridge-Munsee community) and the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois Confederacy). Our teachers feel strongly that Berkshire Waldorf students should learn the stories native to this land, before extending out to stories of cultures across the world, putting these stories at the center of the here and now.

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address

Third grade has also been learning from the Haudenosaunee. At the assembly, they recited a portion of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address.

Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty and responsibility to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one, as we give our greetings and our thanks to one another as people.

It’s important to know that the Haudenosaunee thanksgiving is not a once-a-year event. Just as the Haudenosaunee do, Waldorf students and teachers begin their days with a blessing, preparing to work together and do their best, and building collective strength in this way.

Many of the grades hung turkey feathers in the apple trees in the big backyard – each feather a blessing of gratitude. These are ways to begin to reclaim the meaning of Thanksgiving. Seventh grade smudged with sage around their fire, to purify seeing, hearing, speaking, hearts and minds. These actions are the beginning of reframing Thanksgiving in our diverse community.

We are Grateful

So you might be wondering, What do I tell my children about Thanksgiving? 

To reiterate from our blog post last year, start with learning together about Thanksgiving and ways to practice gratitude from Indian writers and storytellers. Learn about food sovereignty, and consider adding diversity to your celebration with a dish that includes rich indigenous flavors like corn, beans and squash. More learning resources are listed below. 

As adults, learn that not everyone is feasting and celebrating; indigenous people, especially in New England – especially in Massachusetts – are fasting, and meeting at Plymouth Rock to hold this day as a National Day of Mourning.

While it’s important that parents know and acknowledge the truth of history, fourth grade teacher Victoria Cartier points out that you will want to tune what you say to your child’s age and development. 

For example, with early childhood students, the focus is on making food and saying a blessing for all the good gifts of the earth. 

“And I would add, give gratitude to nature,” Pumpkin Patch Kindergarten teacher and Pedagogical Lead Christianna Riley suggests. “Take walks in nature, be in wonder together and admire its beauty. Young children are so good at finding ordinary rocks or sticks as beautiful and special treasures. We can learn from them.” 

With third graders, Ms. Cartier says she would emphasize generosity, working together for the good of all, and gratitude. In eighth grade, children are ready for and seek the truth, and that’s a time to share more details. In high school, students will want to act for justice.

Sachem HawkStorm of the Schaghticoke First Nations, a direct descendant of Massasoit, visited our school in 2018.

More Resources:

Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address:

americanyawp.com/reader/british-north-america/haudenosaunee-thanksgiving-address

Learn more about the true story of Thanksgiving:

https://berkshirewaldorfschool.org/rethinking-thanksgiving/

Visit Berkshire Museum (through 1/9/22) to learn more about the past, present and future of the Mohican Nation:

http://berkshiremuseum.org/portfolio-item/muh-he-con-ne-ok

What you can do now to promote healing:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/1Me3v2fdjIPBQVkzALHhge2K8q4bCBe7cCBvVAZ11UQc/edit#heading=h.ca8yt0gt432d

First Nations Day

We humbly and gratefully acknowledge that our school is learning and gathering in the unceded homelands of the Muhheconeew (Moh-He-Con-Nuck, or Mohican) Nation, who are the indigenous people of this land. Despite the tremendous hardship of being forced from their ancestral home, today their community resides in Wisconsin and is known as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community

We also honor the elders and land keepers, past and present, of First Nations in the four directions, including Schaghticoke and Lenape to the south, Nipmuc, Wampanoag and Massachuset to the east, Abenaki and Algonquin to the north, and Haudenosaunee to the west.

Etow oh Koam, Mohican chief, 1710, from a BWS eighth grader’s main lesson book.

There are many celebrations and opportunities in the Berkshires this month to learn more about the First Nations of this sacred land.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Great Barrington

Drumming, traditional Native American songs, speeches, and a procession culminating in a ceremonial blessing of the Housatonic River will mark the local observance of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Great Barrington on Monday, October 11. For details and to register, visit www.allianceforaviablefuture.org

First Nations Day at BWS

We’ll light the fires for First Nations Day, Tuesday, October 12, when Abenaki children’s book author, editor and storyteller Joseph Bruchac visits our school to share Northeastern indigenous nations’ stories, songs and drumming. You can find the extensive list of Dr. Bruchac’s books and stories here, and copies of many of them in the Mason and Ramsdell libraries, as well as at Bookloft and other local bookstores.

Abenaki storyteller and author Joseph Bruchac

“We once called this land home, and while forced removal may have physically moved us, our hearts remain.”

-from the Berkshire Museum Exhibit Muh-he-con-ne-ok: People of the waters that are never still

Berkshire Museum

Muh-he-con-ne-ok: The People of the Waters That Are Never Still showcases the story of the Stockbridge-Munsee Communities past, present, and future.

Stockbridge Mission House and Walking Tour

Stockbridge Mission House now hosts a Stockbridge-Munsee Community-curated Mohican Exhibit.

And stroll through Mohican History with this Walking Tour of Main Street, Stockbridge, MA.

Stockbridge-Munsee Archeological Dig

The Mohican Tribal Historic Preservation Office conducted archaeological digs at “Indiantown”—now known as Stockbridge—this summer, to try and locate the 1739 meetinghouse site and the site of the ox roast that George Washington ordered there in honor of Mohican soldiers, in gratitude for their support, at the end of the Revolutionary War. 

Sheffield Historical Society – “The Mohican Journey: Homelands, History, and Hope”

The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans has worked for decades in research, preservation, education, and governance to promote equality and programs that strengthen their culture and community heritage. Making connections to their ancestral homelands continues to be of sacred value.  This exhibit combines a variety of art forms, artifacts, audio and video elements, including content from Dorothy David’s  “A Brief History of the Mohican Nation” as well as many personal narratives.  Outdoor exhibit on view through Oct 11, weekends 11a-4p and Indigenous Peoples Day, Monday, Oct 11.

First Nations Books

Elder-approved books from the Stockbridge-Munsee Arvid E. Miller Library:

Forge Foundation

The Forge Foundation, located in the Mohican homeland near Hudson, NY, has launched an indigenous fellowship program to support the work of indigenous artists and activists.

Papscanee Island in the Muhheakantuck (Hudson) River

Read the amazing “land-back” account of how this island in the Hudson River – with a preserve that remains untouched since 1609 – has been returned to its original owners, the Mohican Nation, and you can visit it.

The aim [of this year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day events in Great Barrington] is to “acknowledge and heal the wounds of our past, honor the Native American ethic of respect and care for the natural world, and integrate indigenous values into our response to climate change.”

– Alliance for a Viable Future

Lear More from the mohican.com website

STOCKBRIDGE-MUNSEE HISTORY VIRTUAL TALKS 

-We are Mohican Nation Presentation for Stockbridge Munsee Day  

-PBS: Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican History  

-Words of our Ancestors

-Footsteps of our Ancestors – Virtual Walking Tour of Stockbridge

 -Finding A Place Again: Honoring the Mohican Story of Stockbridge with Bonney Hartley 

-CTSB: 2018 Mohican History seminar & tribal elder Judy Putnam Hartley talk

-History Presentation for NY Fish and Wildlife service in 2015

-Williamstown – Living on Mohican Homelands 

“Long Journey Home” Story Map on Stockbridge-Munsee effort to reclaim Papscanee Island

-Homelands History Series from the Arvid E. Miller Memorial Library Museum

OTHER RELATED TALKS

-Decolonizing Language: In conversation with Heather Bruegl and Dr. Anne Leilehua Lanzilotti 

-Perspectives in Archeological Collaboration

-The Power of Native Women with Heather Bruegl

Indigenous Histories:

-Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States

-Jean Maria O’Brien: Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England

-David Treuer: The Heartbeat of Wounded Knee

What do we celebrate when we celebrate Thanksgiving?

We are all so ready for some celebration. We have almost made it through the fall term, miss our friends and family, and long for a sense of normalcy, to help orient ourselves in this disorienting time.

How do we celebrate, when not everyone is celebrating? This year, we are truly thankful for another journey around the sun. To celebrate in the midst of so much loss, when the earth is calling for a time of introspection and healing, means holding our families close.  From closeness comes comfort and calm.

Our community’s outpouring of generosity in this time of need, by actions such as giving food to the Peoples’ Pantry, is a start at widening the circle of love and support to our neighbors. Part of what we celebrate with sharing is that the Indians in what is now Plymouth, MA  gave “essential survival knowledge to the Pilgrims and taught them how to cultivate the land, including teaching them which crops grew well, how to avoid dangerous and poisonous plants, and how to extract sap from maple trees.”

Do we see the mercy and the generosity of people who did not see the “other” as an enemy, but as a human being? Do you know what became of Ousamequin, know as Massasoit or great sachem (leader), and Tisquantum  (Squanto), and how this generosity was repaid?

 Art by Jesus Barraza 

The “First Thanksgiving”

In a speech planned for the 350th anniversary of the Pilgrims’ landing at Plymouth rock in 1970, Wampanoag Wamsutta James wrote these remarks:

It is with mixed emotion that I stand here to share my thoughts. This is a time of celebration for you—celebrating an anniversary of a beginning for the white man in America. A time of looking back, of reflection. It is with a heavy heart that I look back upon what happened to my People.

Even before the Pilgrims landed it was common practice for explorers to capture Indians, take them to Europe and sell them as slaves for 220 shillings apiece. The Pilgrims had hardly explored the shores of Cape Cod for four days before they had robbed the graves of my ancestors and stolen their corn and beans. Mourt’s Relation describes a searching party of sixteen men. Mourt goes on to say that this party took as much of the Indians’ winter provisions as they were able to carry.

Massasoit, the great Sachem of the Wampanoag, knew these facts, yet he and his People welcomed and befriended the settlers of the Plymouth Plantation. Perhaps he did this because his Tribe had been depleted by an epidemic. Or his knowledge of the harsh oncoming winter was the reason for his peaceful acceptance of these acts. This action by Massasoit was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you, the white man, with open arms, little knowing that it was the beginning of the end; that before 50 years were to pass, the Wampanoag would no longer be a free people.

National Day of Mourning

Instead, James was not allowed to speak these words. Since the year his speech was suppressed, this day has marked a National Day of Mourning. Moonanum James and Mahtowin Munro explain:

Every year since 1970, United American Indians of New England have organized the National Day of Mourning observance in Plymouth at noon on Thanksgiving Day. Every year, hundreds of Native people and our supporters from all four directions join us. Every year, including this year, Native people from throughout the Americas will speak the truth about our history and about current issues and struggles we are involved in.

Why do hundreds of people stand out in the cold rather than sit home eating turkey and watching football? Do we have something against a harvest festival?

Of course not. But Thanksgiving in this country—and in particular in Plymouth—is much more than a harvest home festival. It is a celebration of the Pilgrim mythology.

According to this mythology, the pilgrims arrived, the Native people fed them and welcomed them, the Indians promptly faded into the background, and everyone lived happily ever after.

The truth is a sharp contrast to that mythology.

Telling the Story is Teaching the Story

In eighth grade American history, our students learn about Revolution—the French Revolution, American Revolution, French and Indian Wars, the so-called Beaver Wars, and the Industrial Revolution. To the victor go the spoils. The victors also control the story, which includes the stories in children’s books and textbooks.

Sachem HawkStorm of the Schaghticoke First Nations, a direct descendant of Massasoit, visited our school in 2018.

So consider the story of the “First Thanksgiving” as just that, a story—the New York times recently called it a myth. American Indian Movement activist Russell Means called Thanksgiving “Thankstaking.”  He also points out that there were many feasts in Plymouth when the Indians shared food with their starving neighbors, but that the first “official” Thanksgiving Governor William Bradford declared was in gratitude for the massacre of an Indian village. Even Parenting Magazine writes, “Thanksgiving signifies a whitewashing of history, and an attempt to deflect from the atrocious harm caused to indigenous groups by European settlers.” 

True History of U.S. (Us)

On First Nations Day this year, Pumpkin Patch kindergarten teacher and member of the BWS Diversity, Equity and Inclusivity (DEI) Committee Christianna Riley visited the New England Peace Pagoda. She writes:

I had the great privilege of being invited to the New England Peace Pagoda’s 35th Inauguration Ceremony (socially distanced and responsible). I am including the link to a livestream that was taken. This is for parents only. The part I would like to share with you begins around 48 minutes into the livestream, a beautiful song and then a speech given by Sonia Little of the Mashpee Wampanoag Nation, located in what we now call Cape Cod, Mass. Sonia is the granddaughter of the late Supreme Medicine Man of the Wampanoag People, Slow Turtle. She gives a heartbreaking, clear and concise truth about the history of the USA and the First Nations of Turtle Island. I believe that hearing Sonia speak is a deed of great courage. This is the history of the USA and of Humanity. We are all related and connected. This is an offering to raise our awareness and to know history so that we can make a better future for our children and the Earth.

We are Grateful

So you might be wondering, What do I tell my children about Thanksgiving? 

Start with learning about Thanksgiving and ways to practice gratitude from Indian writers and storytellers. Learn about food sovereignty, and consider adding diversity to your celebration with a dish that includes rich indigenous flavors like corn, beans and squash. Some resources are listed below. 

While it’s important that parents know and listen to the truth of history, third grade teacher Victoria Cartier points out that you will want to tune what you say to your children’s age and development.  For example, with early childhood students, the focus is on making the food and saying a blessing for all the good gifts of the earth.  “And I would add gratitude to nature,” Mrs. Riley suggests. “Taking walks in nature, being in wonder and admiring its beauty. Young children are so good at finding ordinary rocks or sticks as beautiful and special treasures. We can learn from them.”  With third graders, Ms. Cartier says she would emphasize generosity, working together for the good of all, and gratitude. In eighth grade, children are ready for and seek the truth, and that’s a time to share more details. In high school, students will want to act for justice.

Making Space for Listening

Some believe that the world will not heal until the earth can heal, and that in order to restore health, nations who have been “removed” must return to their sacred homelands. The water protectors, as you know, stood at Standing Rock for all of us—people and animals alike. The Lenape, who traded Manhattan for trinkets because they couldn’t conceive of selling the earth, are beginning to return to New York, working to teach what they know to save the earth for all. Once again, we are hungry in so many ways, and winter is approaching. Can we listen, and return generosity and mercy with respect and dignity? Can we change the end of the story this time, so all life can flourish? Let our celebration be a commitment to hearing all voices, leaving a space for silence so we can hear what the world is asking of us.

Some Resources:

We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell

Squanto’s Journey: The Story of the First Thanksgiving by Joseph Bruchac

1621: A New Look at Thanksgiving by Catherine O’Neill Grace

The Thanksgiving Myth Gets a Deeper Look This Year

How to Celebrate Native Americans This Thanksgiving

Listen to Indigenous American Podcasts

Cook 10 Essential Indigenous Foods with The Sioux Chef

Faces of the Lenape Tribe, the Original Inhabitants of Manhattan

Massasoit’s Strategic Diplomacy Kept Peace With the Pilgrims for Decades

X