How To Make The First Day Of School The Best Day Ever
How To Make Your Own Schultüte
The Schultüte, also known as a Zuckertüte, is a relatively recent German and Austrian tradition whereby children receive a small cone stuffed with gifts, school supplies and candies on their very first day of school. This wonderful tradition began in the early 1800s in the eastern provinces of Germany, in the states of Thuringia and Saxony. It quicky grew to all German speaking areas. Education has always been very important to Germans, and this tradition arose as a way of helping children assimilate to the new changes in their lives that occur while attending school.
Today, the tradition lives on throughout Germany and Austria. Every region, community, family and school seems to have their own tradition, and I have found few families that do it exactly the same way. Time, also, seems to change the tradition slightly each year. Of course, that’s what makes this custom so easily adapted to American children!
In a small Lower Saxony community, students gather on Sunday at the local church and take a group picture with their teachers. They are then led on a procession to the school where they are introduced to their classrooms and teachers. Then they are allowed to go home and open their Zuckertüten. Monday morning is a normal school day without their cones.
In one town in Bavaria, a formal photograph is taken at a local studio a few days prior to the beginning of school. All the children with their families arrive and pose for portraits. Families pose together, and the children all get individual poses as well. On the first day of school, these students open up their Schultüten in class. Opening them in class offered an excellent excuse to meet classmates by offering each other candy and sweets as well as swapping toys.
For some larger schools, children dress up nicely and walk to their school with their parents and their Schultüten. On the way they often stop at a church and there is a school church service. Then everybody walks on to school and assembles in the courtyard where recess and lunch is. Sorted into different classes, each respective class would then go inside the school and go directly to their classrooms. Once inside, the children were allowed to just take one item out of the Schultüte and eat it. The rest had to stay in the cones, they were put away, and then class began. Around 1:00, when school lets out in Germany, the students were picked up by their parents and then they were finally able to open the rest of their Schultüte. Friends often met at someone's house to open their cones and to play with their new toys together.
Although in the United States we use the German word kindergarten for our first year of school, in Germany, Kindergarten is used for preschool only. Students in Germany start their public education at six years of age in first grade. This is, then, when German children receive their Zuckertüte. Nevertheless, the tradition for my own children was that they received their Zuckertüte on the first day of public education. That meant, of course, that my children received their cones on their first day of kindergarten at age five. When we woke them up for the first day of school, their cone was waiting for them on the family sofa. We had been talking enough so that they knew what it was, but we did not let them see it completed before that morning. We took pictures of them with their Zuckertüte and reminded them that they could open it as soon as they got home. When they arrived home they were eager to rip it open and see what they got!
How to make your own
Presently one can easily purchase ready-made cones online or at the many stationary shops in Germany. Obviously, that makes it a little difficult for those of us not living in Germany! Generally, the cones are decorated with whatever fancies the child or is popular at the time. Insects, butterflies, black and yellow bees, panda bears, Transformers and Barbie; any motif that is appealing to a six year old child. A variety of types, sizes and themes are available, but to truly make it special and unique, nothing beats a homemade Schultüte.
There are a variety of methods to make a cone as well, but what comes easiest for me is to take a poster board and twist it into a cone shape. The larger the poster board, the larger the cone! Manipulate the top opening to make it as large as you wish, making sure that the bottom is as tight as possible. Staple and glue the edges shut to keep it from unraveling. Trim off the top and bottom excess so that the top is level. Tape the staples so that they do not cut any small, greedy fingers. Now decorate the cone in any manner or fashion you like. It seemed that my girls enjoyed a lot of pink glitter! Be sure to use many layers of tissue paper on the bottom if you trimmed too much, so that nothing can fall out of the bottom. Wrapping ribbon around the bottom also makes for a nice secure bottom.
After your cone is ready, fill it with all sorts of gifts and candy. To lower the candy count, we filled ours with pencils, crayons, erasers, pencil sharpeners, rulers, and anything else that was school related. A couple of special toys added to the delight as well. One unique idea to top the cone is to fill a balloon with just enough helium to expand tightly around the top. Fill the balloon first with confetti or other small items and then decorate with tissue paper to cover the entire top. This tissue paper top will also help hide any rough edges, especially if you can’t cut a straight line, like me!
Remember though, this is only for their first day of school ever, not every single year. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard from my own children, "Hey, school starts soon, don’t I get one of those sugar cone thingies?"
Many thanks to Rick, Jessica, Wiebke and Stefanie for their personal recollections.