Taming the Dragon

One of the festivals we enjoy celebrating at my children’s Waldorf school, Balay Sofia, is Michaelmas. On September 29 each year, Waldorf schools around the world celebrate this festival, which highlights the story of St. George taming the dragon with the help of Archangel Michael. According to Sarah Baldwin, a Waldorf teacher and author, Michael gives St. George “the courage to uphold what is right and true, and the strength to face the challenges that lie ahead.” In a deeply symbolic way, the story feeds the children’s “innate need for truth and justice.”

In the last two-and-a-half years we have spent being Waldorf parents, we too have been encouraged to ponder our own inner dragons, in order to develop the strength and courage to continue striving to be better individuals. Michaelmas takes place close to the autumn equinox, and in Western climes makes its presence felt through crisp, cool air and the explosion of autumn colors. Here in Baguio, our climate is slightly akin to the West—rainy season draws to a close, and we experience the amihan or the cool northeasterly wind that tells us the habagat or wet season is over. Shorter days and longer, cooler nights move us to hunker down, to collectively snuggle under thick fleece blankets to keep warm. The change in season or temperature causes us to reflexively reflect on our lives, as the year draws to a close.

I grew up in tropical Manila, where it doesn’t get truly cool until December and one gets up at 4 a.m. to attend Simbang Gabi. But because my birthday comes in mid-September, and I am a naturally introverted, reflective person, I always look inwardly during this time. It can be a panicky thought such as, “It’s September already??? What have I accomplished so far this year?”, or a more enlightened inquiry, such as, “What am I feeling now, and where is it that I want to go? What do I want to feel or be? What should I be putting my attention or focus on now?”

This year, many of us experienced stress or trauma (or both) during and in the aftermath of Typhoon Ompong’s visit to Northern Luzon. I was lucky enough to be living in a secure home without any leaks or threat of landslide, while others had to deal with water coming out of light sockets or flooding in the streets. Landslides took 70 lives in Itogon, to bring the total of dead in the Philippines to 100. C’est la vie, some might say dismissively. But I’m quite certain that, whether one was aware of Michaelmas or not, these horrific events permeated the inner life of most Filipinos and called forth some reflection on the really important things in one’s life.

The beauty of this time in history is the ease of communication through apps such as Facebook Messenger, Viber and WhatsApp. Through the school Messenger thread, my co-parents organized the cooking of arroz caldo for the evacuees in Itogon and other locations in or near Baguio, as well as clothes and blanket drive for those who lost pretty much everything. The children evacuees requested for toys, and my children gamely donated about five stuffed toys each (with the promise that Santa Claus would eventually reward such generosity). Some parents were hands on, chopping vegetables and cooking the lugaw in big calderos, or delivering donated goods and freshly cooked food with their children in tow. Even now, four weeks after the storm, some parents are still helping evacuees by continuing to provide hot meals, collecting and delivering donated goods, and one mother is even teaching the wives of out-of-work miners how to bake German Christmas cookies. They, along with other good Samaritans from Baguio and the rest of the Philippines, found the strength and courage to overcome fear and danger, to respond selflessly to the challenge the Category 5 typhoon left us.

Balay Sofia moved its Michaelmas celebration from September 28 to October 5 in order to give everyone more time to prepare for the festival properly. On that sunny, October morning, the children ate the “dragon bread” they had helped prepare the day before. They participated in “games of courage”, in the form of an obstacle course that ran through school grounds. In a ceremony we parents were allowed to witness,  the kindergarteners sang songs about St. George taming the dragon with the help of Archangel Michael, and were each given crowns that we parents had made by hand. The grade schoolers reenacted the legend, complete with a green dragon they made themselves. Afterwards, we blessed our potluck lunch and shared a feast of tinola, chop suey, steamed vegetables and kakanin for dessert.

It was such a beautiful day, that some of us headed to Camp John Hay that afternoon, where we sat on blankets underneath the pine trees and watched our children—all dressed in yellow and white for the festival—run back and forth on the grassy field, making up their own games, or kicking around a couple of soccer balls one of the parents had brought along. Some of the mothers brought out their knitting, some of the dads brought out their guitars. At some point, someone bought a tub of ice cream and sugar cones and the kids had a treat. We talked and laughed and watched over each other’s children. We stayed there until the shadows grew long and the cold wind of the amihan made us pull jackets over sun-warmed limbs. The season had indeed changed, and somehow, our hearts felt ready.