Tag Archives: school

May Pole

Content:
Informant – “In early May, the Waldorf school hosts a May Pole celebration. In the central courtyard of the lower grades, the faculty erects a tall wooden pole crowned with a bouquet of flowers. Dangling from the top of the pole are long ribbons. Everyone is invited. Grades 1-3 dance and sing songs with their German and Spanish teachers. Then grades 4-6 dance around the maypole with the ribbons. Each grade has a specific dance, but all the dances are spiral. They interweave the ribbons, going in and out. 7th grade plays the music. Each dance has a very specific song.”

Context:
Informant – “The May Pole is a symbolic of the Earth reawakening. The dancing is circular, spiral, going in and coming out. It’s the rhythm of how the world works, an awakening and a sleeping, an awakening and a sleeping. As the outer world becomes more opulent, we see the green, smell the flowers, and inner world becomes sleepier. It’s a very joyful, very OUTWARD celebration. We are recognizing the earth crowned with flowers, the scent, the glory. It’s very very visual.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at the Austin Waldorf School. She knew about the May Pole before, but not the specifics.

Analysis:
Each grade has a specific role to fill in the celebration. It’s highly regulated. This adds to the community-centric atmosphere of the festival. Everyone has a role to fill. The spiral dancing reminds me of a flower unfurling, going from within to without. It’s interesting that such a joyous, gregarious celebration is so strictly controlled. There is no room for improvisation.

Martinmas Festival

Content:
Informant – “On November 11th, Waldorf schools around the world celebrate Martinmas. As the story goes, Saint Martin was a Roman soldier. He saw a beggar shivering in the cold, so Martin cut his own cloak in half and covered the beggar with half. The beggar was actually Christ. To commemorate his generosity, the 1st and 2nd graders create lanterns and walk through campus sharing the light with the school”

Context:
Informant – “This is a festival of light. As the light decreases on Earth, the light becomes more inward. We bring the light inwards so that we carry the light within. Martinmas is celebration of Saint Martin, but it is also a sharing of our own internal light with the everyone.”
The informant learned about this festival when she started teaching at Waldorf.

Analysis:
Despite the references to Saint Martin and Christ, the actual festival is more pagan than Christian. It’s interesting that only the youngest grades make the lanterns and carry them through the school. Not only are they are spreading light at a time of darkness, they are also spreading youth and life at a time of dying.

Michaelmas Festival

Content:
Informant – “Every fall, on September 29th, Waldorf schools celebrate Michaelmas Festival to honor Saint Michael defeating the dragon. The 4th grade puts on a play. The play is different from year to year, but the overall plot is the same. A town is besieged by a dragon. A maiden gives herself up to the dragon to save the town. Saint Michael saves the maiden by taming the dragon. After the play, the high school sings a powerful three part harmony.
‘Hearken all, the time has come when all the world at last the truth shall hear; then the lion shall lie down with the lamb. Our lances shall be turned to reaping hooks, swords and guns be cast as plowshares, nations shall live in lasting piece, all men unite as brothers.’ ”

Context:
Informant – “Around this time, meteor showers are very prevalent in the Northern Hemisphere. The whole festival is very indicative of iron coming down to earth and strengthening humanity for its fight against the darker forces as summer ends and winter begins. The dragon isn’t really a dragon – it’s the evil within us. Saint Michael is the Lord of Light, his iron comes to strengthen mankind with light. The whole festival is a celebration of our higher, nobler self defeating our lower, base impulses.”
The informant learned about this festival on her own when she was studying Waldorf education.

Analysis:
The festival is an interesting mix of pagan and Christian influences. It’s intrinsically linked to both Saint Michael and the ending of summer. The fact that the dragon is tamed and not killed is also interesting. It reinforces the informant’s claim that the dragon is not an external enemy, but our own internal demons. We cannot kill our base impulses, but we can learn to control them. The timing of the festival is also interesting. It is a celebration of light and peace at a time when the world is getting darker and all the plants are dying.

Advent Spiral

Content: Advent Spiral
Informant – “The Advent Spiral is a somber ceremony for grades 1-8. It happens in the winter. Fresh pine boughs are laid in a large spiral in the center of a dark room. Paper star mats are spaced out equidistantly along the spiral. In the center of the spiral is a single lit candle. A class enters the room. There might be a harp player in the corner, or it might be silent. One by one, a child enters the spiral. Each child has an apple with a candle stuck in its center. The child walks through the spiral, lights their apple candle from the candle in the center, then places their apple candle on one of the star mats. Then the child sits outside the spiral. Once everyone has gone, the room is full of light.”

Context:
Informant – “Walking into the spiral symbolizes walking into the spiral within yourself. Lighting the apple is like lighting the flame within yourself. The apple itself is a symbol of new life. This ritual has is based on the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Celts. They took an ember from their city, from their central sacred hearth of their city temple and transported it carefully to the new land. They took an ember from their holy hearth to whatever land their were colonizing, and then they would light their first sacred hearth with that ember. All the fires were started from that first original coal. That sacred fire is holy, regardless of the religion. It symbolized them carrying their religion forward. It symbolized a unity with the old land, a unity with their culture and religion. That’s similar to the advent spiral. The students place their apples on the stars. Stars represent our connection to the cosmos, an outer world, a spiritual world. It shows that you are giving your light to the whole world. By the end of the advent spiral, the whole room is filled with light. It’s symbolic of what we want the students to do. It’s not Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, whatever. You are a light filled person, and as you grow older share your light so the world becomes a light filled place.”
The informant learned about this ceremony when she started teaching at Waldorf.

Analysis:
The use of pine boughs reminds me of Christmas trees. They are evergreen, a sign of life in the dead of winter.
I couldn’t find any references to Greeks, Romans, or Celts transporting sacred coals on Google. Still, I agree with the informant’s interpretation of the ritual (i.e. it is symbolic of sharing your inner light with the world to make it a brighter place).

For another version and explanation of this festival, see “Winter Spiral and the Meaning of Advent.” www.clws.org/events/winter-spiral-and-the-meaning-of-advent/.

MASH Game

“So, during class when I was younger, my friends and I would play this game called MASH. It’s called MASH because the first category of MASH is “Where will I live?” and MASH stands for “Mansion, Apartment, Shack, House.” But there are a ton of other categories, too. It’s basically just trying to predict your future. So we would write things like, “Who will I marry?” and “What will my job be?” For each category, there are four or five options. Then, once you’ve written it all down, whoever is making the chart draws a spiral until the person being MASHed tells them to stop. And then they count the number of vertical lines that the spiral makes. Then, you use that number and start crossing out options. So, if you have six lines, you cross out every sixth option until you have one option left in each category. Usually, you get to choose one option for each category, and the person making the chart can choose the other ones. So you end up with some really weird results. Also, the biggest category was definitely “Who will I marry?” because we usually put boys in our class as options and it was a huge secret. We would be super embarrassed if any of the boys saw what we were doing. And it would also be really disappointing if you got a boy who you didn’t like.”

Context: The informant went to school on a military base in Weisbaden, Germany. She played this game with exclusively female classmates.

Interpretation: This can easily be viewed as an activity to groom young girls for a stereotypical life and a nuclear family. It also illustrates which lifestyle choices are desirable and acceptable, and which are not. It teaches young girls that a nuclear family with a successful job and a nice house are the best things to hope for in the future, whereas ending up with a less-than-ideal romantic partner and occupation are like losing the game of life. For another example of how MASH can be played, see the submission “M A S H = Mansion Apartment Shack House” by user ronniyoon in the USC Digital Folklore Archive.

 

Seven-Up Childhood Game

Informant: The informant is Aliki, an eighteen-year-old young woman who grew up in Yonkers, New York. She is a freshman at Concordia University in Irvine, California. She is of Greek descent.

Context of the Performance: We sat on the floor of my dorm room at the University of Southern California when Aliki visited me during her spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: When I was in elementary school, my music teacher taught me a game called seven-up. Basically, she would pick seven people to stand at the front of the room, and the rest of the class would sit at their desks with their heads down and their thumbs up. The seven chosen would then walk around the room, and each would tap one seated person’s thumb. They would put their thumbs down once they were tapped. Then, when the seven people were done, they would return to the front of the room, and the seven whose thumbs were tapped would stand at their desks. Each would then choose whomever they thought tapped them, and if they were right, they would switch places and roles with them. If they were wrong, they’d sit back down. At the end of the guessing, the people a the front would admit whose thumbs they tapped. Then the process would happen all over again.

Interviewer: Why is this piece of folklore important to you?

Informant: It’s a childhood game. It’s important to me because of my memories tied to it. My friends and I got so excited to play this game, and it was always the biggest deal to figure out who tapped your thumb! Also, everyone from other schools played something similar to seven-up growing up, usually just with slightly different rules or a different name, but it’s something to reminisce on not only with my classmates but really anyone my age.

Personal Thoughts: I enjoyed hearing about this piece of folklore because I played the same game in elementary school and feel the same way about other people knowing a similar version. It’s very interesting to see how games in different schools compare and how they were a major part of our lives. We even go so far as to argue over which version is right.

“Red Light, Green Light” Childhood Game

Informant: The informant is a twenty-two-year-old named Samantha. She graduated from Providence College last year and is currently working in New York City as an Advertising Sales Assistant for VERANDA Magazine. She lives in Yonkers, New York with her parents and has lived there for her whole life. She is of Italian, English, and Russian descent.

Context of the performance: We sat next to each other on the living room floor at her house in Yonkers, New York during my spring break from college.

Original Script:

Informant: Back in elementary school, my friends taught me a game called Red Light, Green Light. Essentially, one leader would stand facing the rest of the group of people, who would stand far away from him or her. Then, the leader would turn around and yell, “Red light, green light, 1, 2, 3!” While the leader said this phrase, the group would run toward him or her, but when the leader turned around, they would all have to freeze. If any of them moved while he leader was turned around, he or she would call them out and tell them to go back to the start line. Whoever reached the leader first while he or she was turned around saying the phrase would tap the leader and become the next leader. The game would continue with a new leader, and the old leader would join the group.

Interviewer: Why is this game important to you?

Informant: This game reminds me of my childhood and my days in elementary school. I remember thinking that it was so funny if someone tripped during the game or couldn’t stay frozen long enough, and I remember the suspense of trying to stay still in the group or waiting to be tapped on the shoulder as the leader. Also, this game reminds me of the end of the school year, which was the best time of year, because it started to get warm out, and we could play outside again. We would play during recess or, if we were lucky, our parents would let us stay and play after school. That was the best, especially if the Ice Cream Truck showed up.

Personal ThoughtsI played “Red Light, Green Light” when I was little as well. What I find interesting about this game, and other games that my friends and I played as children, is that it has to do with topics we would face as we got older. For example, this game is about red lights and green lights and stopping and going, so it pertains to driving. Children always long to grow up, and the games they play often highlight that.

Pep Rallies

When my dad got out of the army, he, uh… we moved to Arkansas. So I was probably, like, ten or eleven, um… And so then I’m, like, I became one of them, right? And, uh… going to pep rallies was, like, a new thing… for me, um… All the schools that I’d gone to, I lived in, like, Washington state, Colorado, and… they didn’t really have pep rallies. I don’t know, maybe they did in high school, but I… I wasn’t aware of them. Anyway, I remember going into this gym and, um… you know, the cheerleaders are cheering, and the football team is, like, running around, the band’s playing, and then everyone was, like, clapping, and then making this sound, like, “Woooooo!” And I was, like, I cannot make that sound, like… I was, like, trying, and I’d be going like, “Uhhh! Weeeaaah! Aaagghhh!” you know, like that. And then, as everyone was screaming, I would, like, try it out to see how to make that “wooo” sound… Anyway, so that was just, like, trying to, like, figure out how to be normal at a pep rally.

 

Thoughts:
My informant is a self-described “librarian type”– she is very bookish (she studies Shakespeare and is a writing instructor) and sort of introverted. Thus, the wild screaming and cheering and overall rowdy atmosphere of pep rallies, particularly in a place to which she was new at the time, seemed very strange and out-of-character for her. This story also points to the culture of pressure to fit in or “be normal” in society generally, and especially in high school. This almost forced community gathering and vocalizing of loyalty or excitement for one’s school somewhat institutionalizes this practice, and marks my informant as an outsider who is new and unfamiliar with the expectations of how to show support for her school identity.

Old Miss Hackley

The informant, a 20-year-old college student, attended a private Ivy League Preparatory school in New York, the Hackley School, for grades 6-12. While I was out to lunch between classes with the informant, I asked if she could tell me about her school’s history, and if there were any traditions or narratives related to this history that all of the students know about.

“Well, Hackley is named after the woman who founded it over a century ago, Miss Hackley. Everyone thinks of her as this old, gray-haired, witch-like woman. Deep in the library there are a lot of old books and paintings. The story goes that in this one really old painting of the school, there was a shadowy figure towards the back for as long as anyone could remember. Then, a few years ago, the figure disappeared. So supposedly that was Miss Hackley, and she moves in and out of pictures and paintings throughout the campus watching the students’ every move and making sure that nobody is acting out or being disrespectful.”

This legend regarding the founder of the informant’s school is a way to keep the institution’s history alive by implying that the school’s long-dead founder is still very much aware of whether the students are being respectful and behaving appropriately. The informant said that while she does not believe that Miss Hackley’s spirit inhabits the school, thinking about the possibility still creeps her out. This legend functions to keep the students at Hackley School in line by providing an ultimatum that, while perhaps not entirely threatening, would make a student think twice before sneaking off into empty classrooms or cutting class: if you fail to obey the school’s code of conduct you are disrespecting Miss Hackley, and if she knows of these the potential for her to discipline you exists. The legend is not dependent on students believing that Miss Hackley’s spirit actually inhabits the school, but rather on the slightest bit of doubt that it possibly could. I think that the nature of the institution, as an old, elite private school on the east coast, allows the legend to operate much more effectively than it would at, say, a relatively new public school on the west coast, due to the fact that the older school as a more extensive, and unknown, history that a newer school would lack.

The House on the Bus Route

Item:

Me: “Did you ever go to the house in person?”

Informant: “It was on the bus route which was somewhat long, so it wouldn’t have made sense to. But I don’t think anyone would have wanted to anyway…”

A house on the informant’s elementary school bus route in southwest Ohio had a very eerie exterior. The owner had built extra things on to it — weird overhands, banisters, small porches — which led to a unique structure. All the additions were poorly put together, so as a whole, it looked like a bit of a wreck. Kids would always look at it as they passed. Over time things were added to it or changed, but they never saw the owner or someone working on the house. It never looked like anyone was home. The story behind the house among the children was that a drug dealer lived there. If someone stepped on to the lawn, he would shoot them for trespassing.

 

Context:

The informant assumed that there wasn’t a reason behind the story of the man who was there. He had heard it from fellow classmates, who heard it from siblings, but as far as he knew there was not a specific reason that led to that explanation. He still remembered how weird the house looked and that the structure alone was cause for curiosity and a little uneasiness. In us talking about it, he posited that if anything, the arbitrary construction was sort of unnerving as to the mental stability of the owner. I asked if he stopped by the house on foot at any point, but because it was just one location along a bus route, there wasn’t an opportunity to. Nor would he have, he said, since there was just a general fear of it among the kids.

 

Analysis:

Around the age of 12 when the informant had this experience, kids are starting to get exposed to anti-drug education from schools and parents. There wasn’t any basis for the “drug dealer” bit, but perhaps it was created to associate a fear of the unknown with the growing awareness of a negative thing like drugs. It seems most school stories like this have no clear generation or grade where they started, but are simply an evolution that caters to the active issue around that age range. In this case, drug awareness is connected to a mysterious but haunting looking house.