The Susquehanna Waldorf School gymnasium vibrates with the rumble of drumming and the stomps of a fierce dragon. He marches, each heavy foot falling with the beat, towards Saint Michael at the center of the floor, standing bravely with his sword. The dragon lunges as his shadow falls over the brave warrior, knocking him back. A hush falls across the surrounding villagers. In a moment, though, Saint Michael is on his feet again, and as the day settles into dusk, worries of the fearsome, destructive dragon are dissolved with the dragon’s defeat. Hope prevails.

The dragon, of course, isn’t a real dragon—it is Class 3, skillfully cloaked in layers of silky fabric—and Saint Michael isn’t the archangel himself but a brave student draped in a red cape and sparkling golden crown. The festival of Michaelmas honors Saint Michael, an archangel in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and is observed by people of all faiths and spiritual paths. Waldorf schools around the world recognize this festival, which underscores the importance of overcoming fear and strengthening resolve, of finding the courage to face both internal and external dragons. That Michaelmas is celebrated near the autumn equinox is no coincidence: marking the diminishing daylight, close of the harvest, and shifting of seasons in the northern hemisphere, the festival comes at an appropriate time to remind students that they must endow themselves with courage and fortitude for the cold, dark days of winter ahead. Held near the beginning of the school year, the symbolic gesture towards the new journey of the year ahead is also significant, as each student takes on their own challenges.

After the Michaelmas play, students head outside for a series of field games and activities that focus on courage. The activities meet each student at a developmentally appropriate age:  the younger children, for instance, balance a small pebble on a wooden sword as they tightrope a circle of logs; older students wield a javelin to collect large wooden stars; and all ages sprint to leap as high as they can over the high jump (with the bar rising after each success). The closing event, however, remains the favorite: an energetic tug of war that tests the strength and striving of students as they work together.  It is through these efforts that students discover new inner resources to help them grow towards life and light, for now and into adulthood.

“Michaelmas is about rising, physically, to face your inner battles, your inner ‘dragons’,” says Class Five teacher Salvatore Martino. “This is a common theme in stories, from the fairy tales to the Norse mythologies.” In Waldorf education, it is these teachings of parallel stories to our own human challenges that speak to students in a symbolic way, identifying with a need shared by all for truth and for justice.

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