Why celebrate this festival that seems so “Christian”? Why is it of any value? Rudolf Steiner gives some insight into an understanding of the “Inauguration of Waldorf Education” in a lecture called “Education as a Social Problem”, August 16, 1919.

“If humanity were not to develop anything else except intellectual intelligence, Man would become an evil being on earth”. If we want to think of a wholesome future of mankind, we must not count on the one-sided development of intelligence… At this point we confront a deep secret of Christian-esoteric development. If the Mystery of Golgotha had not taken place in the course of earthly evolution, human beings could not avoid gradually becoming evil through their intelligence; inevitably they would fall prey to error… But Christ has flowed out into the evolution of humanity, and since then He is within it – within that which one knows as The Resurrection – and He is, above all, within our own forces of soul.

It must be demanded, especially of teachers, that their souls be strongly gripped by the anxious concern on behalf of humanity in the face of the temptations which the intellect brings with it! We must, however, be clear that this Christ-Impulse should not be the dogmatism of some religious body.

In a foreword to the book “The Festivals and their Meaning”, A,P. Shepherd points out that Rudolf Steiner saw Whitsun or Pentecost as the completion of the great redemptive work of Christ, a completion into which man could not enter in full consciousness until our present age.

The Origin of the Festival of Whitsun

The Mystery of Golgotha is accomplished and then follows the Resurrection, after which Christ is still perceived for a time. Then at the so-called Ascension, His closest disciples are able to perceive the dissolution of the bodily form which He had assumed. They gather together in Jerusalem for ten days. On the Day of Pentecost – a Jewish Festival – they are gathered together. They experience a mighty wind, tongues of fire descend on their heads, they understand different people speaking different languages.

Thus they receive the “Holy Spirit”.

Found in the Bible: Acts 2: 1-13

“Thus we now understand what the power of the Holy Spirit is: it is the power which will raise each man ever more and more above all that differentiates and separates him from others, and make him a member of the whole of humanity on the earth, a power which works as a bond of soul between each and every soul, no matter in what bodies they may be.

Why is it celebrated here at Stellenbosch and not often in other schools?

1) Estelle Bryer encouraged me enthusiastically at the founding of Honeybush to think of bringing Whitsun into the nursery school, emphasizing the social aspect and the colours – white and orange. It was celebrated as a morning open to mothers to come and light candles with their children in the early Honeybush days.

2) I found out it is an old Stellenbosch rural tradition especially amongst farm mothers to dress in pure white for “Pinkster Sondag” (also a tradition in the British Waldorf Kindergartens). The first Honeybush parents from Idas Valley, Pniel and Kylemore embraced the celebration wholeheartedly, remembering their own school days.

3) In later years teachers became enthusiastic about Whitsun; the children who knew it in the nursery school wished to continue celebrating. It grew into a “tradition”, but clearly with a very true purpose in mind.

Sources for developing Whitsun:

1) Festivals with Children, Brigitte Barz p.70+

2) Festivals, Family and Food, Diana Carey, Judy Large p.48+

3) The Festivals and their Meaning, Rudolf Steiner, p.243+

Every year the festival has developed further and further with the enthusiasm of more teachers adding new elements. In 1999 we worked with the 12 senses and came to the idea of the memory and the etheric and the sense of smell being strongly linked. Then we decided to create the orange-clove candle holders – while the children work on the candle holder they can associate oranges with water, rain, fallen leaves, fires …

There is also the white dove symbol of the Holy Spirit and also of peace … We can make white paper doves and hear a white bird story!  The flames burning together emphasise the community created in a school – the overcoming of what separates us, for in each of us there exists the eternal!

We all dress in white in the old Stellenbosch tradition, perhaps symbolizing our pure intentions? We also in this way look ahead to the great St. John’s Bonfire at the end of term.

Written by a former teacher at Stellenbosch Waldorf School