The winter season brings with it a sense of enchantment and wonder, and as many may agree a chill factor that goes straight through to your bones!
At Tamar Valley Steiner School, this magical time has been celebrated annually, since the school’s inception back in 2017, through a cherished tradition known as the Winter Spiral Ceremony.
The ceremony, observed by schools worldwide, originates from cultural traditions that honour the longest night of the year, known as the Solstice myth or mid-winter myth period.
The Winter Spiral Ceremony serves as a beautiful reminder of the importance of unity and connection during the colder months.
The focal point of the ceremony is the spiral path, a winding trail of candles shimmering inside apples. The children walk reverently to the centre where they can light the candle and then place it around the spiral where the next apple and candle should be placed.
With each candle added, the glow intensifies, transforming the once-darkened space into a luminous spectacle.
“The school was started by a group of really inspired parents who wanted to bring more meaning and connection back to their families and their connection to nature and the seasonal cycles around them. When we first started the school with parents and children, we probably had about 20 or 30 candles around the spiral, we now have around 140.” Said School Principal, Carolyn Scott-Burgess.
“For us, we started [the ceremony] by acknowledging the fact that we know that this land is of the first Tasmanians, the Palawa people. For them, there’s the symbolism and sacredness in the flame and in fire and very much part of their traditions, culture and relationship to land and place and in gathering in winter.”
Carolyn went on to share, “cultures all over the world have this relationship to fire and it’s our time with the children of the school to bring that reverence to the fact that this fire represents the inner light within us when we are reaching the darkest times of the year and it’s an opportunity for us to tune into our inner spirit, our inner light, and to share that with the world.”
The process of the spiral ceremony signifies the process of sharing and bringing reverence and respect to our inner light.
Some common reactions and feelings expressed by the families and children are those of joy and for the children, a sense of responsibility. “There’s a real sense of pride and confidence in them that you see that they take this on, and obviously the whole community is watching them very fervently and watching how they enter the circle.”
“The little people, some of them come with the accompanying help of their mother or father if they are a little bit shy. The gift to them is in being able to be given that responsibility of holding the apple with the candle.”
“There’s a big joy, there’s this real sense of responsibility and the sacredness of them in looking after that little light and so they carefully carry that around the place that they’re going to put it in the circle.”
“Slowly as a school and as the whole community, we build up a spiral of candle lights by these apples that are containing the candles and being placed around the circle.”
Throughout the ceremony, the air resonates with the harmonious melodies of the group, singing songs that recognise winter and candlelight.
“Part of this rhythm in nature and our acknowledgement of what it means to us as human beings in having this darker time of the year where it’s a bit of a time to come in and reconnect with our intentions for the world and how it is we want to be in the world. That process of being a part of that is just a really nice way of representing that.”
Carolyn said the school had received plenty of heart-warming feedback from families with many children stating it was their favourite festival of the year.
Whilst the children don’t make the candles that form part of the spiral, they certainly don’t miss out on decorating other candles during this time of the year. Some of the children assist with coring the apples and placing the candles inside of them.
In an effort to reduce waste, with the assistance of the older children, the apples are collected and sent to farms to feed animals whilst the foliage is taken to be composted.
“We end up not having really any waste, that kind of links very well with our sustainability values. It’s great that there’s a sense of the children not having that throw away attitude that’s really valuing.”
Carolyn also added, “as Tasmanians here in the middle of winter where outside can sometimes get a little bit bleak and feel that there is that sense of really needing to retreat, we send our winter blessings to the Tasmanian community, the Northern Tasmanian community and hope that they have that opportunity to use this winter time as a way of reconnecting with their inner light and making plans for the future as it unfolds throughout the next year.”