All of us do something for the first time in life. For example, every pupil enters school for the first time. In each country this day, the Day of Knowledge, is conducted in various ways. As my project is directly connected with children, school vacations and school itself, I took part in this solemn event along with the new German first-graders.
In Germany, the Day of Knowledge varies from year to year (from the beginning of August to the mid of September). Germany includes 16 counties that have its own start date of a new school year and vacation period respectively. The order is not set for a lack of good reason, this elaborately made schedule of different dates of the beginning and the end of the school vacation in different counties is made to adjust the extra traffic flow on the roads, in the airports and in hotels created by parents taking their children on a vacation in summer season and in winter break. As this takes pressure off traffic in the city and in suburbs.
Almost all children enter school at 6 years of age, some of children may start even at 5 years of age but they should be able to keep up with the rest of their class. Every child takes a test that shows whether the child is ready for school. If the test has been passed, in around a month all of the future first-graders and their parents receive a letter from school that includes a schedule, the beginning of a first school day and what needs to be brought for the first school day. It also includes information about their class, the name of the class, for instance it could be called a lion, butterfly or any other cute name, and a picture of a chosen insect or animal. The pictures are received by all pupils.
On the first day of school, a smartly dressed pupil (German pupils dress the way they like, as there is no special school uniform required), comes to school (without flowers), but with a ‘handful’ (a ‘must have’ thing for a first-grader), that usually includes: candies, chocolate, bubble-gums, some sweets and some school supplies. At some schools this handful is opened right in the classroom but some children prefer to take it home and open there. Schultüte – ‘a school handful’ is a German traditional form of a gift that is given to a first-grader by his parent in a shape of a paper cone that is filled with sweets. The length of Schultüte is around 70-85 sm. The tradition to take children for the first time to the first grade with a well-size present has started in Germany back in XIX century and practically has never been practiced in other countries.
The history of Schultüte takes place in Saxony and Thuringia in around 1810 year. Schultüte is mentioned in 1817 year in Yen, in 1820 year – in Dresden and in 1836 year in Leipzig. The children were told that Schultüte grow on trees of a school teacher and if they are ripe, it’s time for school.
As a matter of fact, I was pleasantly surprised by these ‘handfuls’ and it would have been nice if this tradition is widely spread not only in Germany. If you take me for example, I’d not refuse to receive such a present. The first-graders are gathered in the gymnasium where they’re encouraged and congratulated by the headmaster and schoolteachers. A teacher introduces himself to the pupils and then each pupil comes to his teacher and follows the teacher to a classroom. The students of high school join to the congratulations of the adults, they dance, sing and show a play about a school life. By the way, only first-graders, their parents and close relatives are presented at the event, for the high school students it’s an average school day. After all congratulations received by the pupils, they go to the classroom, where they introduce themselves to each other, take a tour of the school and also on the first day they receive a homework – to draw that was in their Schultüte. And go back home to continue their celebration!
The first school day in Germany usually ends by a big family event, on which close friends and family members are invited. Somebody celebrates at home, in the back yard making barbecue till the deep night; somebody meets at cafes and restaurants. Me as well as the young first-graders, expecting our first year in a German school! And who knows what is expecting us around the corner?