The teachers at Juniper Ridge, as at every Waldorf School, daily strive to create alive imaginations for the children and awaken their innate abilities to create their own inner pictures. It is one of the distinguishing characteristics of this educational impulse. December 6th marks the celebration of Saint Nicholas. This event is particularly special to the school because, on this occasion, the imagination walks bodily into the classroom.
The historical Nicholas lived in the fourth century and was renowned for having used his whole inheritance to assist the needy, the sick and the suffering. Due to his good works, he was appointed to bishop and created an enduring reputation throughout the land for generosity to those in need, for his love and care of children, and his concern for sailors and ships at sea. One of the many stories to come out of his life was his custom to bring aid to towns that were suffering from famine. Like an ancient forerunner of the Red Cross, Nicholas would call upon his wealthy parishioners to collect food and clothing and load them onto a ship. He would personally take the shipment of goods to the suffering township. Then he would walk from door to door, delivering the bounty to each doorstep, knocking sharply, and then pass on, not waiting to be thanked. In this we can clearly see the seeds of the anonymous generosity and gift giving that evolved to become our own Santa Claus, whose name is a rendering of Saint Nicholas as it came through the Dutch to English.
In the classrooms, Nicholas takes on another traditional role, one that serves the pedagogical needs of the teachers. Nicholas visits each classroom and brings with him a gift for every child. Instead of remaining an anonymous gift-giver, Nicholas makes a personal appearance. He is invited into the classroom and speaks to the class as a whole, reading out of his golden book. He may also take time to speak to each child individually. In either case, he is careful to praise the children for the progress they have made both
academically and socially. However, he also speaks to the children about areas where they must continue to strive and improve. Speaking to them about what they can be proud about as well as shining a light into the darker corners that need improvement is reflected in the gift Nicholas gives to the children. Every child receives a small packet which contains a mandarin orange and a walnut. The mandarin is a welcome treat: it is easy to peel and sweet inside. This represents the areas that Nicholas complimented them upon. The nut, on the other hand, reflects the challenges that Nicholas has pointed out, areas of learning and behavior that are still a “hard nut to crack”.
To the increased delight of the children, Nicholas does not come alone. He is accompanied by a figure who is known by different names, although here we call him Rupert. Rupert, dressed in rags, face blackened and hidden, unable to stand up straight, often wearing chains around his waist, forms a visual contrast to the stately Nicholas who stands straight and is elegantly dressed in his red bishop’s cloak and miter. As Nicholas is good, generous and kind, Rupert is his polar opposite: grasping, dishonest, a self-centered rascal and mischievous-maker. Nicholas represents our highest human strivings, while Rupert is the image of how low we can fall. Rupert’s only saving grace is the love, respect and devotion he has for Nicholas who has seen him for who he is, and loves him unconditionally, although he does not shy from continually correcting his behavior. Sounds a lot like parenting.