Michaelmas is a festival that marks the turning of the seasons. Traditionally, it is celebrated on September 29th. In Medieval times, Michaelmas was celebrated as a time for gathering: landlords gathered rent, people gathered food, and the food was gathered into cupboards and storerooms. A celebration was held to rejoice in the harvest if it was bountiful, or send up prayers for better harvests in the future. Later, the festival was given more of a Christian meaning and included celebrating the role of the archangel Michael as dragon-slayer.
The turning of the seasons marks a turning in our spirits as well. With the shortening days, we feel winter’s approach, and know that more of our time will be spent indoors. With the carefree days of summer, our hearts were light and seemed to match the warmth of the sun. Now that the days shorten and grow colder, we must look inside to find our light, and often this involves facing our inner dragons. This requires a depth of courage and tapping into the strength and light that will carry us through dark winter days.
In Waldorf tradition, Michaelmas is brought as a celebration of this strength of resolve, goodness, courage, and inner light.
For parents, working with inner dragons can lead to a rich experience of one’s own humanity and strength. Even inner dragons have their purpose within the context of our lives, and can be “harnessed” to bring out their redeeming qualities: protection, a rightful sense of justice, and action.
Children are, of course, nourished by the mood and the imagery brought around any festival, rather than the literal meaning or history of it. The mood of Michaelmas is related to gathering, harvesting, working, strength, courage, and steadfastness. The imagery related to those moods can be found in nature and story lore: squirrels gathering nuts, St. George taming or slaying a dragon, shooting stars, workers bringing in the harvest, mice making their nests, leaves blanketing the ground, etc. The colors associated with this festival echo the fiery colors of the changing season: reds, oranges, browns, and yellows.
For younger children, celebrating this festival and time of year can include stories of the harvest, activities such as polishing apples, making harvest wreaths, drying flowers, putting garden beds to sleep, raking leaves, chopping vegetables for soup, gathering marigolds and dyeing with them, and kneading bread for a harvest loaf. Some older children may delight in hearing stories of the dragon being slain. If you choose to tell dragon stories and are concerned they might be too scary for young children, you can have the dragon transform into a helper instead of being slain.
My intention is to bring a brief overview of Michaelmas and celebrating harvest. I encourage you to make up your own stories, and searching the web will produce some nice Michaelmas stories for you to use. There are also a few books that have many more crafts, songs, and ideas for celebrating Michaelmas. The Children’s Year and All Year Round are good books to start with. Wynstone’s Autumn and Festivals, Family, and Food are also good resources.
And finally, for your nature table, I present to you a dragon to make.
1/8th yard red felt
1/8th yard of yellow felt
Body pattern (print patterns to 100% on a 8.5 x 11 sheet of paper)
Begin by cutting out all parts. Because this dragon is made of wool felt, I recommend hand sewing it using cotton quilting thread and backstitch. If you like, you could use embroidery floss and sew the seams using blanket stitch. This dragon is sewn with the seams on the outside, so there is no turning it inside out to stuff it.
Once the parts are cut out, sew the head gusset to the head in between the placement marks.
Sew the spikes along the back (the pinked seam you see in the picture will be on the inside of the body).
Sew the legs onto each other. Sew only the sides of the legs, and leave the bottoms open. To make sure you sew your legs on facing the inside of the dragon, place your body pieces so they mirror each other, like so:
Begin to sew the body gusset by pinning it on one side of the dragon and sewing to the leg.
Pin both sides of the dragon body together, lining up the gusset marks on the other side. It is easiest to start at the tip of the tail, sew along the back, and end up on the other side of where you stopped.
Sew the tail from the tip to the gusset mark.
Now, begin sewing the rest of the gusset. When you get to a leg, tuck your finger inside the leg and hold it to stabilize the leg. As you sew, push the inner leg up toward the body a little bit. This will help keep the dragon’s legs from splaying out and help your dragon to stand. You can always go back and take a few more stitches toward the middle if need be.
Sew one side of the belly and legs, stopping at the gusset mark. Continue on to the other side, and sew up the legs, but leave the space in between the legs for stuffing.
Begin stuffing the dragon using a knitting needle to help get small bits of wool into the tail and head. Once the body and legs are stuffed, close up the belly seam.
Sew the bottoms onto the legs. Put extra stuffing in the legs if need be to help the dragon to stand. Pin the wings and ears into place and sew. If you sew them on the front and the back, they will stand up.
Place your dragon on your nature table, or in your puppet basket.
As a teenager, Angela Mobley dreamed of having a home filled with children, music, and art projects. She imagined every room harboring colorful nooks of art supplies and crannies of creative expression. Today she is living that dream with her four children and husband. In addition to all that singing and knitting and sewing and exploring, she teaches handwork and music at the Waldorf School of Louisville. Find her somewhat irregularly at theartistthemom.