Nature-Based Learning: Lily-of-the-Valley

In shade gardens across the Hilltowns, Lily-of-the-Valley makes its debut in mid to late May. This delicate, fragrant flower is rich in folklore and goes by many names. Learning through the lens of Lily-of-the-Valley, let the different names of this spring flower start as your guide for learning this week.

CHRISTIAN LORE: Names like “Mary’s Tears” and “Our Lady’s Tears” are associated with Christian Lore. Can you think of other flowers that are also related to Christian Lore? Have you ever heard of a Mary Garden? The University of Dayton has a list of “Flowers of Mary’s Sorrows” that are typically grown in a Mary Garden and can support learning about religion through folklore.

FOLKLORE: Pagan folklore associations can be found in the origins of alternative names of Lily-of-the-Valley, like “Jacob’s Ladder” and “Ladder to Heaven.” In Irish folklore, the bell-shaped flowers of Lily-of-the-Valley were drinking cups for fairies. When Ireland converted to a new Christian-based belief system, these two alternative names with roots in paganism took hold.

WORLD CULTURE & HISTORY: In ancient European cultures, the Lily-of-the-Valley was thought to protect homes and gardens and to bring good luck when brought into a home. Even today in France, May 1st is a public holiday, La Fête du Muguet (Lily of the Valley Day). Let this annual observation day lead your learning about French history and culture! La Fête du Muguet is a tradition that dates back to the reign of King Charles IX in 1561. In more recent history, this fragrant flower has been linked to the worker’s rights movement, where they were worn on the lapels while participating in protests and marches.

ART STUDIES & MINDFULNESS: Lily-of-the-Valley has caught the eye of many artists. Looking through the lens of this delicate flower, let it lead you to learn about art history through the many depictions of Lily-of-the-Valley, including paintings by Marc Chagall and Albert Durer Lucas. Study how these artists interpreted the color and texture of this flower and see if you can find what they saw within your own observation of Lily-of-the-Valley closer to home. Photographing and sketching, or just sitting and observing, can train your eye to notice the nuances of light and shadow, shades of white in the flower, and tones of green in the leaves. Get up-close and give the flower a sniff. Does smell engage any other senses? Might you also interpret smells with colors, sounds, or tastes? These mindful moments make your learning relevant to where you live, connecting lessons with a sense of place through the senses, and through the seasons.

Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield

Nature-Based Learning with Curly Willow on the Westfield River. Nestled in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains on the east branch of the Westfield River, Curly Willow on the Westfield is an emerging space for the passionately curious. A convergence of mindfulness and community-based education. Member, Community-Based Education Network™.

Music Trekking: Here Come Our Mothers

Here’s To Our Mothers!

Although Mothers Day as we know it is not recognized all over the globe, there is not one single culture that doesn’t celebrate the roles of mothers, grandmothers and similar figures in their folklore, stories and songs. Do other cultures love their moms and like to sing about them? You bet they do!

This month I wanted to share a song and video from the Zulu tradition. It’s called “Here Come Our Mothers, Bringing Us Presents.” It’s a song I learned from the wonderful South African performing group, Ladysmith Black Mambazo. The lyrics are in English with a chorus in Zulu, so the song is really easy to understand and enjoy.

Are you wondering what’s going on in the song and why the mothers are bringing presents? If so, you’ll probably enjoy the story behind the song that explains what is happening.

It would appear that Zulu moms are very much like any other moms – they work very hard all year long. For most of these moms living in small villages, they plant and grow food. After they’ve harvested their crops and saved what they need, they take the rest to town. There they will trade for other supplies to last the rest of the year. And, with the little bit of money that’s left over they will buy something special for their children. Maybe it will be a delicious piece of fruit or a special sweet only made in the nearby town. In any event, the kids consider this a really exciting day.

While the moms have disappeared on their trip to the market, the young people are at home waiting. On that day, they try their best not to fight with their siblings or cousins. They try to listen to their elders and they may even do extra chores without being asked. All this is done in anticipation of their mom’s return. When the mothers can finally be seen coming over the hill, the kids burst out into song. In the song, which is sung a bit different every time, they imagine what goodies they might be able to enjoy once their moms are safely and happily back home again.

If you sing this song you can make it different each time. You can add the names of fruits or vegetables you might like to get from the local farmers market or grocery store. You might add the names of treats or sweets you like and pretend that you’ve spent a whole day waiting for your mom to surprise you with them. Wouldn’t it be fun if the song said “Here Come Our Mothers, Bringing Us Maple Candy,” or maybe shaved ice from the Tuesday Market?! Feel free to play with the lyrics. That’s what a folksong is all about!

How will you celebrate Mother’s Day this year? Does your family have a special tradition? Comment here so we can learn more about the wonderful things you do to celebrate the special moms in your life!

If you like this video and want to color some pictures from it, you can download the coloring pages here:


Award-winning children’s performer, DARIA (Daria Marmaluk-Hajioannou) has created 7 cd’s that have won national honors. She has the most awesome job of traveling the world to sing for kids and peace. Her “world music for kids” website,, was given a 2009 Parents Choice Award for its musical and cultural content.  She has also created a multicultural kids video site as well as My Favorite Multicultural Books.

Discover South American Folklore in the Hilltowns

Mettawee River Theater Company to Perform New Outdoor Production in Western Massachusetts
Beyond the High Valley: A Quechua Story

Beyond the High Valley: A Quechua Story is a Peruvian folk tale where Imposing Condor and Resourceful Hummingbird do battle, to be performed by the Mettawee River Theater Company in both Shelburne Falls and Cummington, MA. This free outdoor theater production will incorporate masks, giant figures, puppets and other visual elements with live music, movement and text, drawing on myths, legends and folklore of the world’s many cultures for its material.

Beyond the High Valley: A Quechua Story is based on a beguiling folk story of the Quechua people, descendants of the Incas who inhabit the Andean highlands and tropical regions of Peru, Beyond the High Valley will be offered to the public at two free outdoor venues in Western Massachusetts:

  • Friday, 07/31/09 at 8pm in Shelburne Falls, MA on the Buckland-Shelburne School lawn
  • Sunday, 08/02/09 at 8pm in Cummington, MA at Pettingill Field (off of Main Street)

In Beyond the High Valley, the unlikely opposing forces are a willful giant condor and an intrepid little hummingbird. At the onset, the condor spies a young woman tending her family’s llamas in a meadow. He sweeps down from the sky, transforms into a dashing lover and carries her off to a rocky crag. Her rescuer is a creature of dazzling ingenuity, a plucky hummingbird. The production will incorporate a range of puppets and other visual elements realized on many different scales, expressing the vast distances, radiant sky and rugged, vertical thrust of the fierce and beautiful highland terrain.

About the Mettawee Theatre Company

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Shadows Between Winter and Spring


The mid-point of winter in the United States is marked by Groundhog Day, a day with rich European history, “clouded in the mists of time with ethnic cultures and animals awakening in specific dates,” writes Bill Anderson in his book Groundhog Day: 1886 to 1992.

Anderson also writes, “The groundhog tradition stems from similar beliefs associated with Candlemas Day and the days of early Christians in Europe, and for centuries the custom was to have the clergy bless candles and distribute them to the people. Even then, it marked a milestone in the winter and the weather that day was important.

Recommended Links for Exploring Groundhog Day and Candlemas:

Read the rest of this entry »

Legends & Lore of Easter Icons

Easter Symbols, Icons, Legend, Lore and Customs

Many traditions of Easter, a religious holiday, have their origins in pagan rituals and beliefs. The result is lots of legends and lore behind the popular icons, symbols and customs that are part of the Easter celebration.

Hallmark historian and archivist Sharman Robertson explains the meaning of the word “Easter” and highlights the origin of Easter customs:

The Word “Easter”

Centuries before Christ, the pagan tribes of Europe worshipped a beautiful goddess of spring named Eostre (EE-ah-tra). Festivals celebrating the end of winter and the birth of spring were held in her honor at the end of March, the time of the vernal equinox. Some historians believe the word Easter is a variation of her name.

Others see a connection between Easter and the rising of the sun in the east.  Read the rest of this entry »

The Christmas Spider & the Legend of Tinsel

By Sienna Wildfield

For the Kids-Made Holiday Bazaar my 5yo daughter made holiday cards using the Christmas Spider as her motif.

Why the Christmas Spider? Well, last year she decided that the Christmas Spider would be coming to our house instead of Santa Claus. She explained that the Christmas Spider was Santa’s southern counterpart who gave out presents when Santa was busy. The Christmas Spider wears a hat like Santa, she explained, and likes to give out squishy pretend spiders that hang on the wall, along with books, pencils and sea marbles … Something to look forward to!

I asked her if the Christmas Spider had a sleigh and flying reindeer like Santa and went down chimneys to get indoors. She said that the Christmas Spider actually climbs up houses and then down the chimneys to get inside. Then she (the Christmas Spider is female, evidently!) crawls on towards the next house with her fast skinny legs.

My daughter then proceeded to run around and around the house in her stocking feet at top speed saying that her legs were skinny too, so she could run as fast as the Christmas Spider. That was before she wiped out on the kitchen floor. With a bruised elbow and a tear-stained face she snuggled up on my lap. She looked up at me and told me that the Christmas Spider wasn’t allowed to snuggle with me when she came to our house. I reassured her that she was the only spider I’d ever snuggle.

A friend of the family made a Christmas Spider hat for her to wear last year, and the Christmas Spider quickly became her obsession. So I did a little research and discovered that there were several legends about the Christmas Spider, often explaining the origin of tinsel or lace. And last year we discovered the perfect book to read to her, Cobweb Christmas: The Tradition of Tinsel by Shirley Climo & Jane Manning. You can also read about the legend on a variety of sites, including over at

Other books available on the Christmas Spider include:

The Legend of the Christmas Spider A Wondrous Tale: A Magical Christmas Tale from Finland

    by Nancy Valois.

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