WHY WE CELEBRATE MICHAELMAS
“The dragon is not an external reality, but rather lives within all humankind."
— David Mitchell
An Address to Grades One through Twelve, by Carol Bärtges ‘73
In Waldorf schools we celebrate many wonderful festivals throughout the year. One of them is Michaelmas, which takes place on September 29th. Michaelmas is a festival of community, and that is why we are all gathered together here in Central Park on this beautiful autumn day. Michael is an archangel mentioned in many traditions. As we know, he is depicted as a valiant and noble conqueror of the dragon – that evil being whose forces threaten to overwhelm humanity. Just at this poignant time of year when summer’s lease is over, we have the Michaelmas festival in September: the image of Michael is one of hope and courage that helps us remember that when we unite together, we can overcome things that we cannot possibly do on our own.
At this time of year, we rejoice in the earth’s generosity. The branches of the apple and pear trees have been bent for weeks, almost to the ground, the fruit dropping off the branches at the merest shake. In my garden upstate, the leaves of the pumpkins are withered and brown, but the pumpkins are turning bright orange. Everything is ripening, coming to its fullest expression before nature goes to sleep for the winter.
We are always reluctant to lose the light and heat of summer; reluctant to see the plants go to sleep. But nature brings us a wonderful truth. Even as the days grow shorter and the air begins to cool, we can now resolve to carry summer’s warmth within us – we can trust that there is life even when we cannot see it. If all of us share this inner warmth with one another, together we overcome the dragons of uncertainty and fear that perpetually strive to overtake us. The image of Michael and the dragon is a reminder that inner warmth and love for one another is not dependent on a season but is always in us.