Get ready… this is a long one.
Life has been incredibly full as of late. N and I took a fairly last minute trip home to the States to visit my family as the longing to share daily life with these loved ones became a draw that we could ignore no longer. So, we hopped a plane and had two weeks of being completely spoiled and doted on. It was bliss. Pool parties with the cousins, backyard campouts, kayak trips and hot air balloons… It was a magical few weeks. And I got to spend so much sweet time with my nieces. Oh how I love those girls! Getting to see N’s friendship continue to blossom with his cousin, who is older by just three months, is an incredibly precious gift to watch. They are so tender with one another, and although they live half a world away their friendship is deep and cherished by both. I pray it may always be so. And, to get to see N shyly peek at his baby cousin as she takes in more and more of the world around her, observing her every move, making note of her favorite toys and delighting in each smile… well, it was almost more than this mama’s heart could bear! These are such beautiful lives that have been in-trusted to us. The weight of the responsibility and overwhelming grace of their presence with us leaves me breathless. I am so very thankful.
And now, here we are, back home. Back from the fairy-tale like cocoon we were living in while on holiday. But resting back into our rhythm has it’s own sweetness. The ordinary flow of daily life is beautiful too. For a while now we’ve been exploring the teachings and philosophies of Rudolph Steiner (often referred to as “Waldorf” in the States). So much of his work really resonates with me as a person, and the emphasis on allowing children to be children and not rushing them on from one developmental stage to the next fits so well with my own intuition as a mama. Another aspect of Steiner’s work that I appreciate is the emphasis on creating a strong family rhythm. This includes the everyday tasks of family life, but also embraces various festivals throughout the year to carry the young child from season to season and to provide beautiful touchstones through the year that create the space to reflect and grow as individuals.
Celebrating festivals can bring us consciously to what we all experience instinctively in our daily lives, the changing cycles of the seasons and of life itself. Through various festivals and rituals we acknowledge and celebrate our connection to and our responsibility toward each other and the world. (excerpted from Festivals by Marilyn Pelrme)
I’ve always delighted in celebrating the seasons and enjoyed the uniqueness that each has to offer. Adding special festivals and church holy days has felt like a really natural extension of this appreciation, and it has been so much fun to watch N really enjoy and invest in these special family days. On 29 September we celebrated one of these festivals that was relatively new to me, but seems much more widely recognized here in the UK, Michaelmas. You can find a full description of the festival here and I just love what Carrie from Parenting Passageway writes here.
For our part, we celebrated with a circle time devoted to Saint George and dragons in the week leading up to the day. Then, the morning of Michaelmas we helped N dye a sheet of white cloth a bright golden yellow in a bath of calendula petals and turmeric. His wide eyes and gasp when he saw the cloth turn such a rich yellow is a moment I hope to always remember. After a playgroup at the Steiner school that included a beautiful harvest feast time together, N and I returned home and made Dragon Bread and Blackberry and Apple hand-pies for our festive family meal together later that night. We then collected the yellow cloth from the clothesline outside and I sewed it up into his own knightly cape. N spent the rest of the afternoon deeply immersed in pretend play about Saint George, and J came home to shrieks of “Happy Michaelmas, Papa!” over, and over again. After cutting into our dragon bread and enjoying a leisurely dinner together, we ended the evening with the scrumptious hand-pies (recipe here) and ice cream. As N is a great connoisseur of ice cream, this firmly marked our first Michaelmas as a tradition we will look forward to with eagerness in the years to come.
To make our dragon bread I followed this fantastic tutorial. It will be fun to experiment with designs in the years to come. We also placed a slivered almond in the dragon’s paw that N got to remove to our cheers before we broke the bread for dinner. I used the following recipe for our bread:
- 2 1/4 tsp dried yeast
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole-wheat flour—preferably stone-ground
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 1/2 cups grated mature cheddar cheese
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- In a small bowl mix together yeast, sugar and warm water. Leave in a warm place to get foamy while you measure the remaining ingredients.
- Sift together the white flour and whole-wheat flour with the salt into a large bowl. Rub the grated cheese into the flour and make a well in the center. Pour in 3 cups water, the yeast mixture, and work into rubbery dough of medium consistency. Knead for 5 minutes, cover, and place in a warm, draft free place to rise. When it has at least doubled in volume, punch it down and turn onto a counter lightly dusted with flour.
- Preheat oven to 400° F
- Shape body of dragon. Cover and allow to rise another 45 minutes or so. Now get out the scissors and snip scales into your dragons head and back to your hearts delight. You can add olives (or raisins) for the eyes and/or nose. Once you’ve got your fierce dragon looking as fiery as you desire, pop him into the oven.
- When the oven is hot, place the loaves on the center shelf and bake for 40-60 minutes until dragon is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped.
As I shared, we’d been talking about Saint George and the dragon all week, but I decided to tell N a more ‘gentle’ version of Saint George and the Dragon (you can read the original here, or here is a beautiful book with the tale) as the original is a bit much for my tender little guy. As I couldn’t really find any other Michaelmas tales that still had the themes of bravery and courage and caring for others, I thought I’d share my version here in case there are any other littles that would enjoy a tale about a fiery, fierce dragon, that’s not actually scary after all.Also, I decided the Princess need not be quite so helpless and instead could be full of courage in her own right. (This story is inspired from a little prompt I found here.)
Once upon a time, in a land not so very far away, there was a beautiful kingdom. And in this kingdom there was a castle. And in the castle there lived a King, and a Queen, and a Princess. It was a quiet and peaceful kingdom, and the people were happy. Well, one day, a group of villagers rushed to the King and Queen exclaiming, “Quick! Quick! Come quick! There’s a dragon just over the hill in the meadow and he’s breathing out fire!!! What should we do?”
The King went with the villagers to see the dragon and as they drew near, the dragon blew great blasts of smoke and fire and shouted, “Stay back! Stay back!”… “Whoosh,” he blew his fire across the field. The King and the villagers were all very afraid and they quickly rushed back over the hill to the safety of their homes. But the King didn’t know what to do as he couldn’t very well have a fire-breathing dragon just over the hill. So, the King sent out letters in every direction, to the North, to the East, to the South, and to the West asking that any who know how to tame a dragon to please come and help.
Days went by and no one came. So the princess went to her father, the King, and said, “Father, I’m not afraid of the dragon. I think I shall go and speak to him.” The King begged his daughter not to go, but the Princess had made up her mind. Just as she was about to leave, through the castle gates came riding Saint George. Saint George explained that he had been taming dragons all across the land and that he would be glad to go along with the Princess to talk with the dragon. So, the two rode out on their horses, across the field and over the hill, and there they found the fiery, fierce dragon. “Whoosh” breathed out the dragon blowing great puffs of fire across the meadow. “Stay back! Stay back!” he called. But Saint George and the Princess rode closer and called out, “Dragon! Dragon! Why are you blowing out your fire across the meadow?” To which the dragon replied, “Owwwww! Ohhhh! It’s my paw! My paw! I have a terrible splinter in my paw and I can’t get it out! Owwww! The only thing that makes it feel any better iswhen I can blow out my fire…” Whooosh went the flames. “Stay back! Stay back!” called the dragon again.
“Oh you poor dragon!” cried the Princess. “We can help you.” So the Princess and Saint George rode right up to the dragon and hopped off their horses. Saint George went right up to the dragon’s face and gently placed his hand on the poor dragon’s nose. “There, there, dragon” said George. “It’s going to be alright.” And while Saint George was comforting the dragon, the Princess grabbed hold of the giant splinter and gave a great… big… tug! And with that, Ooof! the splinter was free! “Oww– Oh! Ahhhh!” cried the dragon. “My paw! It’s better! You’ve healed my paw! How can I ever repay your kindness?”
“Well,” said the Princess, “it is getting close to winter time, and the kingdom is awfully cold in the winter. Do you think you would come back with us and keep our fires going all winter long?”
“It would be my honor,” said the dragon. So Saint George, the Princess and the dragon returned to the castle together and the King made the dragon the Kingdom’s official fire tender, and the dragon lived happily in the kingdom for many years to come where he faithfully tended the fires, ensuring that all in the kingdom always had a beautiful fire in their fireplace to keep them warm throughout the winter.