In Waldorf schools effort is made to observe significant moments in childhood and to celebrate these with rituals that have meaning for children. The Rose Ceremony in Waldorf schools around the world has a long tradition reaching back to the very first Waldorf school.
The Rose Ceremony happens twice each year: on the first day of school and on the last day of school. The ceremony at the school’s beginning is designed for the oldest students in the school (8th grade or 12th grade) to welcome in the youngest children. Leaving kindergarten and entering first grade is an enormous shift for children. Each eighth grader or high school senior escorts a first grader down the school’s assembled student body to the front of the school’s hall. There is singing or orchestra music playing, heightening the ceremony with lilting music.
Each school might do this celebration a little differently but usually when the first grade child arrives at the front row, the older student will give them a rose (or a wildflower). The new first grader then puts the flower into a waiting vase. By the end of the class’s procession into their front row seats, there is a whole bouquet of roses or wild flowers that adorns the hall for the rest of the event. The first graders with their teacher then bring the bouquet back to their classroom for the first day of school.
Often on these opening day ceremonies, the first grade teacher tells a story to the whole student body but is specifically intended for the first grade. Then each teacher from grades two through eight gives a picture of the coming year’s studies.
At the end of the year, the situation changes and the first graders, now rising second graders, each go to the front of the hall or on stage to present each graduating eighth grader or senior in high school with a rose to say, “Good Bye” and to remind them of their days in this childhood home of their school.
Watching the exchange between the older students and the youngest students in the school is always very touching, very intimate. Little ones look up to these bigger students with real awe and admiration. The older students remember their own first days at school and see in the rose the complex and beautiful living thing they have become in their years at school.
Roses are complex flowers that are evocative of deep feelings. Their structure is mysterious and labyrinthine. The color of the rose is very deep or very delicate, depending on the variety. Its scent is powerful and luxurious. Roses tend to give us pause, humble us with their beauty, and express feelings of love, loss, and memory. Roses are recognized all around the world as markers of significant moments. They are perfect gifts for graduating seniors: complex, beautiful, and ready to open to the world.
This is why some schools use wildflowers for the opening of school welcoming blossoms for the first graders. Little children are more like wildflowers: simpler in structure; innocent; varied in colors; straightforward and open. A bouquet of wildflowers might be considered just like a wild bunch of new first graders! Other schools wish to give the first graders roses to call them to what they will become and to hold the promise of growth into mature beauty and complexity.
Both Rose Ceremony days are charged with high feelings of anticipation and release. The memories made stay with the whole community for a lifetime. It is a quiet and solemn event both at the beginning and at the end of the school year.
The original ceremonies were designed to be what Waldorf schools call “internal” events with only the school population of students and teachers. In the 1990s in North America, parents in school after school asked to be included in the ceremony of flowers. School after school included the whole Waldorf school community in the opening school assembly of flowers. In many schools the rose ceremony on the last day of school remains an event during the school day specifically for the students, teachers, and administrators in the school. This gives the class that is departing a chance to reminisce about memories of their years and a chance to say goodbye to the day-to-day school community.
In a culture that have smoothed over the seasons, the months, the weeks and days of the week so that all things are possible all the time and one rarely need wait for anything, these rituals mean a great deal to the young. They make lines that, once crossed, change the world, as the children know it. The flower ceremonies celebrate and commemorate simultaneously. The giving and receiving of flowers, of roses, give grace and beauty to a child’s growth and acknowledge that every child is valuable, worthy to be acknowledged – seen and received!