A Festival Review


A Festival Review
by the Dalehead household.

As we sat down together, we umm’d and aah’d trying to remember what we had done for the festivals all that time ago ….

Michaelmas, the first festival in the festival year. Oooh yesss, it was in Homefield and combined with the very first Open Day of the Esk Valley Camphill Community. We all had to be very courageous to even go. We had stalls to set up in tents whilst the wind blew, and horizontal rain poured in through any opening it could find. We had vegetable cakes, and music to sing, and a play to perform; all against the backdrop of the howling wind. There were tours of the garden, raffle tickets to be sold and produce displayed. We remembered it as a joyous occasion where the children became fire, the French had the applause and Michaël conquered the alluring Devil. People came from the locality and told us how cosy the tent felt, what a wonderful atmosphere had been created, and that they could think of no better way to spend such a soggy day.

On the 6th December there was a visitor to the younger children in the village who, in one person’s memory, brought coal if you were naughty. However, we didn’t hear that Saint Nicholas had the need for such measures this Festival year.

The challenge for the morning of the 13th December was ensuring we were still sitting at the breakfast table when Santa Lucia arrived with her entourage of angels. This festival was, as always, a gift to the household. It brought warmth of heart, peace and harmony. It filled the house with thankfulness and gratitude and created a wonderful mood to carry during Advent.

Advent was full of interesting talks and stories, and a particularly young group of children performed the Botton School Shepherds’ Play, uttering their words, bleats, hee-haws and songs with admirable assuredness. There was a Solstice walk, which (we are told) was a wonderful experience where the stillness of the year’s pendulum was tangible. And, all through Advent, an act of devotion hummed in the background in the form of rehearsals for the Three Kings Play. The Dalehead household drew cards, wrapped gifts and sent parcels, all trying to keep in mind a reminder from one of the Advent talks to ditch plastic packaging. We aimed for calm preparation, but trying to achieve this can in itself be stressful…..”more preparation next year!” is a yearly mantram!

Christmas Eve. Our community gathered together in the church. The hustle and bustle of the day was left behind for this time. Descriptive words that we thought were fitting for this occasion were sincere, serious, humbling, beautiful and reverential. Afterwards these adjectives were not so relevant whilst we sang to the cows at High Farm (on reflection perhaps next year we should all sing to the same cows), and then gathered with Sherwood and High Farm for our supper in Dalehead. It was a tight squeeze but that seemed to add to the enjoyment. This year we managed to light the tree in our little sitting room and sit quietly waiting for Christmas.

Then it was Christmas Day. The breakfast table had some Camphill and some family traditions; it all looked festive. Lunch was at High Farm and then home to gather around our spindly but beautiful tree to sing and open gifts, and then collapse.

For Epiphany we were fortunate that some of the community had been willing to rehearse the Oberufer Kings play through Advent and then perform. This is a play that many of us have been familiar with for many years. It was a great production, but for someone in the house it is a shame that Sherlock Holmes is not to hand on these occasions.

For Candlemas on 2nd February the community split in two. This was a strange feeling! It was heartening to know that we could stretch ourselves to contribute to warming the earth with a friend of the community whilst the rest of us were in Homefield lighting up the new herb garden and keeping the home fires burning. However, it also felt as though we were incomplete.

Shrove Tuesday and Carnival
Obviously tossing and eating pancakes with sugar and lemon happened. Then Carnival, and this year the costumes were pretty fantastic, with the theme being couples. We have memories of AA Milne characters looking charming, Michaël and the Dragon, a few James Bonds with ladies on their arms, and several Laurels and Hardys. I think the aim may have been to have the children there for the ceilidh, with the disco after the interval. As often happens ‘the best laid plans o’ mice an’ men gang aft agley.’

Palm Sunday. NO DONKEY WALK!…We are in lock down! How do we do this now? How do we come together but don’t come together? We took a breath and realised there is a way to feel togetherness. We just needed to be creative and allow our consciousness to expand across our community, and even to friends beyond the boundaries. Instead of the donkey walk our household baked cockerels, placing them on the top of a decorated cross. We then walked with Sherwood, (or rather socially distance walked with Sherwood), around the village trying not to bump into other households out on their walks. Now Holy Week was with us.

Holy Week. This year there was peace. We were led by the Bible Evenings and Bible readings, with their different qualities, towards the time of the crucifixion. Inspirational talks were written by members of the community who felt they could put pen to paper for our morning gatherings, with a beautiful selection of poetry and songs to sing (which, to be honest, were a hit and miss affair), and through these contributions our gatherings took on form. Conscious that all our houses were gathering together simultaneously, as we stood in our sitting room, was a new and enriching experience.

Easter Day 12th April was an early start, although none of us managed the sunrise walk. Dalehead was quite simply decorated, without the overhead branch but a standing branch with decorated eggs and very little else. It felt enough this year with all the extraordinary events that were happening around the world and the death rate rising by the day.

Ascension 21st May was the first day of our observation of our natural surroundings. Explaining what we would do was not entirely successful, so we just did it and through the week it became apparent that it was understood. The observations were being transformed into extraordinary drawings and doing these drawings together, all using the same medium, was pulling us together as a household. We took our Ascension picnic up the lane to the field overlooking the valley. It was a perfect day with light cloud after a short shower of rain in the morning, and once we were settled and given our boiled eggs and sandwiches, we decided the trek was worth it.

Whitsun 31st May. After our final gathering and achieving three languages for the gospel of St John we set forth all in our white garments floating down the Lusmore footpath. We realised we made an extraordinary vision for walkers that morning putting us into a gay (original meaning) mood. We were off to visit the exhibition of the community’s artwork. We were incredibly impressed by the amount of work created and how the observational study had been interpreted and laid down on paper.

Prior to the Saint John’s Festival, the festival group invited us to work with our senses. We attempted to be aware of our walking – it is amazing how feet can hold up a body, how is that possible? – and senses of touch, life, balance etc.
Saint John’s day was hot, very hot in our little courtyard. Sherwood joined us in a socially distanced gathering. After being led in verse by a member of the Sherwood household, we stood overlooking the valley and woke the whole world up with the sound of every bell we could find, including five cow bells and two gongs. A fire was lit, a little earlier than midday as it needed to become our BBQ. Adaptation and flexibility have to be the theme of lockdown.

It is extraordinary that we started the Festival Year with an Open Day in the wind and rain and have ended it with the heat of Saint John’s day in lockdown. Through the course of the year we experienced the festivals unifying us and carrying us through some of the difficulties and challenges lockdown has caused. In Dalehead we now have a gathering with an evolving theme every alternate Friday evening which we find enriching and enlivening. We are looking forward to the start of the next Festival year, particularly as a member of our household trusts that Saint Michaël will plunge his sword into the earth and “get rid of this blasted pandemic”.