The Lantern Festival Overview


The festival is a celebration of life. Each festival is a mood and an experience, a social expression reflecting the season. Celebrating festivals together is a great way to build a sense of community within our families or with a larger group of friends.

Celebrating festivals illuminates our life on earth with heavenly meaning and shows us the significance of our human existence in the universe. We human beings stand between the two worlds uniting them in ourselves. We are the crossing point where the upper circle representing the heavens flows into the lower one belonging to the earth.

– Evelyn Frances Derry, Festivals and Seasons

Festivals were not part of the first Waldorf School. Rudolf Steiner, the founder of Waldorf schools, did write quite a bit on Festivals, but his writings were intended for the Anthroposophical community rather than the school community. Waldorf schools all over the world, however, are now known for their beautiful festivals. For us as homeschoolers, family and school overlap! Festivals and holidays enrich family life and help establish a comforting yearly rhythm – so find a group of like-minded souls to celebrate with, your family or more! They don’t all have to be homeschoolers or even have children.

Steiner said about festivals that “the cycle of the year is a mighty breathing of the earth in relation to the cosmos.” Festivals create a sense of belonging and mark the rhythms of the year. Children thrive on repetition and consistency. Create traditions in your family that follow your children through life. Steiner talked a lot about rhythm – there is the rhythm of the year, month, week and day. Festivals mark the “big rhythm” of the seasons. In a homeschooling group that I’ve been part of over the years, we have opted to celebrate mostly Solstices and Equinoxes because of our varying religious backgrounds. Together, we celebrate these universal seasonal festivals that are inclusive of religious differences, leaving the specific religious holidays for individual families to celebrate in their own homes.

In preparing for a festival, it’s important for the leaders and adult participants to explore the essence of the festival. This can be inspiring as it reminds us of the important spiritual work we are doing, and also helps to deepen the celebration itself.

Preparing for a Festival

Plan a preparation session about a week before your festival celebration, if you can, in order to make items that will be part of the festival and to practice songs and verses. This is both utilitarian and helps to build anticipation.

When planning a festival, a very simple structure incorporates four components:

  1. Songs and Verses
  2. A Story
  3. An Activity
  4. Food to Share

Keep in mind that many of our memories from childhood celebrations often include sensory experiences and the feelings that those experiences engender. Plan with the senses in mind and you will create a festival that brings strength to all participants and re-enlivens our love for being human.

Many families and groups also like to incorporate service projects into their festivals. A service project can be woven into the holiday’s meaning. For the fall Lantern Festival where the story of St. Martin who shares his cloak with a poor man is often told, families can bring canned goods to donate to a shelter.

Needle Hitching Lantern

The Lantern Festival

Create a Lantern Walk or Festival for just your family or a group of friends. This is a wonderful event to plan for November. Often called Martinmas or Martinstag, this holiday is still celebrated in Germany and France today. I’ve seen dates for this vary from November 11th to November 14th. But this can be a magical experience around Thanksgiving as well.

I encourage everyone to experience the magic of a Lantern Walk outdoors in November. Whether with your immediate family, extended family, friends and neighbors, homeschooling group…in any size group, large or small, you can create a lovely fall ritual for yourself and your children.

This festival harkens back to a time when children in Great Britain and Europe carved out turnips and other small squashes, making them into lanterns to carry throughout their villages after dark (where our Jack-O-Lantern comes from!) This time of year is also said to be a time when the veil between the human and the spirit worlds is at its thinnest, so we can remember that help from the spirit world/God/the Great Universe is always there for us. It is also a time of year when we recognize that the cold and darkness are coming, and we ban together to help each other as the darkness closes in.

The essence of this festival is to acknowledge the light that shines forth from each of us. This light needs to be protected, just as the lights inside our lanterns do, so they don’t blow out. Like one of the songs says: “Each of us is one small light, but together we shine bright!”

We often hold this festival at a local park at dusk – a park that has a shelter, an outdoor fireplace and some trees where we set out a path lit with lanterns for walking through. A few parents arrive an hour or so before everyone else to set out the path.

  • In recent years, we have begun with a large circle in the grass inclusive of all participants, young and old. We go around and introduce ourselves (if there are new folks or guests present) and then practice the songs (For this festival, we sometimes have families from different groups coming together who do not necessarily know each other). For this festival in particular, I also find it helps to remind everyone that while we walk the lighted path each carrying a lantern (that we made ahead of time and parents carry a lantern too), we are singing or silent. If talking is necessary, we whisper!
  • Older children can recite a memorized verse or a poem about St. Martin in front of the outdoor fireplace. Then a puppet show or story can be presented.
  • If you have a large group, it’s a good idea to divide up to walk the path, with 10 or 12 people in each group, making sure there is a strong singer in the center of each group.
  • While lighting all the lanterns, older students might play one of the songs on recorder.
  • After our lantern walk, we share a potluck outdoors (in cold November weather) of soup, muffins and hot cider.

The preparation for this festival can be held at a local library or at a participant’s home a week or so in advance. Make paper lanterns and practice the songs. I also like to hand out song sheets to each family so that they can practice at home. There are many types of lanterns to make and even though I’ve been participating in some form of a Lantern Festival for probably 15 years, I never tire of making lanterns and often find new ones to try! And after celebrating a Lantern Festival for a number of years, you will accumulate many lanterns that can be used to set out on the ground to create a lighted path through the forest.

Here are a few of our favorite songs. I hope this has been inspiring to you and that you make some lanterns and head outdoors with them to walk among the trees.

Songs: The Sunlight Fast is Dwindling; My Lantern, My Lantern; I Go with My Little Lantern

Here are my favorite books for planning festivals, complete with songs, recipes, verses, and crafts.

Each of us is one small light, but together we shine bright.