MayFest — a festival to welcome spring and chase away winter — was a chance for merriment and togetherness after a difficult stretch for Madison Waldorf School during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The festival gaiety Friday included a skit in which “Lady Spring” chases away “King Winter,” children wearing crowns of flowers while singing songs about spring, maypole dancing and a “pocket lady” who passed out treasures she had tucked in pockets on her cape.
“I love all the festivals we do. They’re all so magical,” eighth-grader Zeza Melka said.
Students and staff, who have been separated by age group to maintain social distancing during the pandemic, gathered outside behind the school where they could see each other in the same space even if they remained in their own groupings.
MayFest is just one of the festival traditions celebrated during the year in the Waldorf education model. Festivals at the Madison Waldorf School are based on the belief that by celebrating the passage of the seasons through art, music and story, the school strengthens its connection to the rhythms of nature.
“Celebrating the festivals gives a sense of the rhythm of the seasons and anticipation of (each) season, particularly for the younger children,” said Ginny Buhr, the school's administrator. “We hope to foster a sense of wonder, reverence and gratitude for nature — life around them.”
Traditionally, the school organizes a large MayFest celebration where it welcomes the whole community. But this year, due to the inability to have large gatherings amid the the pandemic, the celebration was an intimate one with the children and their teachers during the school day. Last year it was held via Zoom.
“At least we have all of our students back together,” said Ray Eckenstein, a seventh- and eighth-grade teacher. “This feels like a huge step forward.”
The day started with students making flower crowns to wear. Then, after the skit and some songs, students danced around the maypole as they sang.
Chet Celenza, a former Waldorf teacher who was wearing a striped sweater in colors that matched the ribbons on the wooden maypole, comes to the school every year to lead the dance.
The dancing was followed by an old-fashioned cake walk, run like the musical chairs game to decide who wins the cake. It’s a favorite activity for some of the students like first-grader Van Melka, who said he has won more than one cake in the time he has participated. Last year, when the maypole dancing wasn’t held at the school, he said his family found a way to keep up the tradition in their backyard.
During cake walk, the pocket lady handed out treasures such as handmade items made by families, seashells, little toy animals and gemstones.
The students also made traditional May baskets filled with flowers donated by local businesses.
Because the festival landed on Arbor Day, this year the school planted two fruit trees on the grounds through a donation by a school family that owns a tree-care service. One song performed by the seventh- and eighth-graders was in recognition of observance of International Workers’ Day on May 1.
Fourth-grader Paljor Amba said at the start of the day he was not happy having to wear a mask during the festival, including when he was singing, but he still was looking forward to hanging out with friends and doing some of the activities.
Students were encouraged to dress up, and fourth-grader Nani Arakawa made the best of the mask requirement by wearing a floral one that matched her poncho and skirt. Third-grader River Nelson wore a vest with a flower tucked into the pocket and a fedora decorated with flowers.
Eckenstein said the festivals not only allow the school to keep track of the seasons, they are also a way to acknowledge the transitions students are going through.
The younger students watch what the older students can do at the festival and then they look forward to that, Eckenstein said. One example is a sword dance performed by seventh- and eighth-graders. It is based on the longsword dance from Scotland and Yorkshire, which features dancers moving under and over wooden swords before weaving them into a star or "lock," which is held aloft. The dance demonstrates teamwork, since every movement depends on all dancers working together.