Haerfest & Carnivale: Festival & Gathering, Carnival & Folly

Or: Why *you* are so important: festivals vs. carnivals, and how school should count gathering as our most important function

“There is no secret,

but this is certain,

only by sharing

may we make a feast.”

Dearest Great River Community,


It’s been so long since a regular Head of School blog post! Indeed, moving and construction imbued the summer with the work of moving, packing, and improvised offices. Unpacking the boxes is still happening in the future Head of School office, and dust being brushed off the seat where a head of school (*me*) can muse, reflect, and think toward a blog post! In the spirit of ironic academic commentary, I’ve bolded some words below, and put a vocabulary list* for asterisked words at the bottom of this post!

Our Harvest Festival is Saturday afternoon (October 13th, 2-5pm). Here’s the deal with festivals: they require you are there in order to cause a gathering.

I’ve written before about the importance of this gathering in the story of our year (link for soup article from 2017).  This is not a customer service experience. The school invites us to our feast, and we aren’t selling a meal. We are awaiting, together, for our shared contributions to make a feast of which we are all in glorious and unassured anticipation! That is the recipe for creating relations that are memorable. Visiting the harvest fest is the practice of building the syntax and vocabulary for our friendships. It may seem self-evident, but the gathering together requires *you*. 


I’ll say it here: we don’t guarantee there will be too much soup, or enough. Some years we have so much we can’t find enough families to eat it or bring it home! We don’t know if the bread will be too much, or enough. There isn’t a guarantee, because this isn’t a product being marketed. This is a time when we gather in trembling possibility of what may be as a consequence of our gathering. We tell each other stories of the seasons past, and how we are faring in the autumn. (Word alert: haerfest*) 

The goal is a feast of stories with each other. We share our stories and thereby build the founding spirit of sharing a common unity around our school. Stories of our time, and how we share experience, create the bonds by which we have relation. Our desire for competence can create some anxiety about the soup situation (and the weather, and the whole darn logistical plan!) I agree, 30 gallons of communal soup can appear to be a questionable undertaking.

Our role as older students or as parents to younger students is to model what a community gathering is: time to meet and share a location and experience so that strangers are no longer strangers. If things go well, we all cheer in shared benefit. If circumstances turn challenging and not to our comfort, we bind together in shared sorrow. Same place, same time, and this requires *your* specific characteristics. This isn’t solely a fair or marketplace. The main event is you - and you are of consequence to those others of us at school. No one else is you - and no one else can do the work of meeting, regaling stories, and contribute verbally and vegetable-y. (Ha! I know vegetal is the authorized word here. :-)

The language of Harvest festival might seem synonymous with “fall party!” or “back to school carnival!” - and in general I hadn’t considered any importance of the difference until a couple years ago when someone suggested “Let’s cancel the soup”and I had a knee-jerk reaction of “Soup is why we have the event!”. (Though, ask any kid aged 6 to 18, and they’ll all vote heavy for the bouncy houses as the reason we have the event - which is just as well and their appropriate contribution.) My conversations with families at school so often indicate that we are used to “festival” and “fair” or “carnival” meaning the same thing. These words have started to converge in the modern age when gathering, buying, and folly have often been interchangeable. Without the earnest questions of folks new to the tradition, I wouldn’t have done the thinking or research to come out the other side of contemplation defending this small but important endeavor. We are planting a seed of possibility for our community each year. If it may, we look to see it rooting to life in the winter of our school year and flowering in a stronger community come spring.

Festival* literally means feast - an event worthy of doing the hard work of traveling and making time to assure we  gather together. However, carnival* is a reference to the preparation of meat for meals before catholic lent. (The english language is deeply interwoven with latin roots from conquest and roman conquest. ‘Carnival = carne’(meat) + ‘levale’(to raise up). And, true - the fun and happenstance novelty of the caramel and the bouncy house and the silliness sets a tone that relieves us of the troubled times of our days. Also, and fundamentally, the manner of our gathering for harvest is in sharing what we have been able to gather, to take part in a primal need of a village: to be together, in proximity, with shared dependence on what our gathering has wrought. 

School, as a place of learning, works only if we are comfortable being vulnerable. “I don’t know” is the starting point to knowing. “I know already” is the starting point to never changing, maturing, or stumbling into wisdom. (which, in my experience, is the way wisdom is obtained.) Gathering creates relationships, and relationships are remembered. Relationships literally fertilize the soil of feeling at home among the people of school, which facilitates the ease of understanding the academic content in our time together at school. Without relationship, the mind cannot recall well, and spends time seeking an anchor.  

So, if a party draws you - yes, it will be a partaking in fun. However, it is in true collaborative need that I invite you to make time to be at the festival in the true spirit of ‘feast’. A gathering worthy of a feast among shared relations. Our shared lot here this year is only shared if we show up to take a part and lift together. Gathering in relations so that we can see each other, be in the same place, and tell the stories of our spring and summer days before the winter arrives.  

Be well all, and I look forward to the tales we might share among our gathering Saturday!

 In the spirit of academia and trivia-party winning for all - I’ve linked for all word-nerds to an etymological dictionary below! 

Haerfest (Harvest)