Really neatThis thread has been really neat to read and I've been checking on it quite often as the proud OP.
Unfortunately, my DS had a stomach virus over the weekend and we also were getting ready for out-of-town guests this week (due to arrive any minute, actually!) so I haven't had time to sit down and respond to the posts, but I did want to pop in and say they've been really thought-engaging and helpful.
Some background: My parents are both German, but I grew up here (in the US). I can't say whether it was "cultural" or not, but I grew up obsessed with fairy tales, and distinctly remember that especially when we were on walks in the woods in Germany in the summers, I would build homes for gnomes and fairies or look for them in the forest. I can't remember if it was all those Lang fairy tale books or my parents or grandparents or a little of everything, but Germany is, after all, the land of the garden gnome! It was interesting to me that when we went to the Holiday fair at our Waldorf school that many of the classrooms had little gnomes, nature tableaus, etc. It felt cozy and familiar to me, a little odd to DH. Waldorf comes across as very German to me. But we do joke about the gnomes. Once we noticed them, it was a little funnily creepy that they were in every room. A cloth diaper vendor had knit a gnome as a gift for DS before he was born, and DH later conspiratorily remarked after we started going to Waldorf, "Do you think she's Waldorfian?" So we started jokingly wondering "Do gnomes exist outside Waldorf?"
Neat info about Iceland. There was this one weird week two summers ago where we rented a Hal Hartley movie about a gnome or troll or something, and then I read a great short story by A.S. Byatt about a woman who becomes a stone person and goes to Iceland to join her kind. It's in her "Little Black Book of Stories."
I was originally interested in what role gnomes play in Waldorf, but I think the discussion about real v. imaginary is very organic to the question and greatly appreciated. Our son is still quite young, but we've wondered for a while how we will handle Santa, etc. Personally, I think one of the great things about childhood is that many things seem possible to children, including the imaginary, which, to me, as someone who is basically atheist, includes gnomes, santa, and, well, you get where this is going. On the other hand, I remember being really hungrily curious about all things mystical, including religion, as a child, and one of the things I like about Waldorf is that is presents all those things together without adherence to a particular religion (except, one could argue, Anthroposophy, but I'll just have to wait and see how I feel about that). On a personal level, this is tricky for DH and myself. DH is very anti-religion and some of the religious stuff is a bit much for him. I don't particularly like the angel-birthday thing someone mentioned earlier either. In terms of the body, breastfeeding, birth.... I'd like to be up front about that. But on the other hand, I think spiritual stuff is important, and since we don't go to church (and don't want to start going) I see Waldorf as a possible outlet for this.
But back to the gnomes. I am still a little confused about what role the teachers play. I would think it would be a very subtle thing -- do they tell stories about all these figures and then leave it open to the children? What do they say when children ask about whether these things exist? Again, I ask as both a Waldorf-curious and a parent. I'm not sure what I would say myself.