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Schultüten and the First Day of School
To lessen the chance of kilometer long traffic queues, together with "overcrowded everything else" in peak summer holiday season, German school holidays are staggered, and children are "school free" for different times in the separate Länder, federal states. Ranging from end June to beginning August in Bremen and Saxony for example, to August until mid-September for Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria.
This means that during the first week of August some lucky six-year-olds will receive their Schultüte, candy cone. In some cases to calm those "first day nerves" but really celebrating having left their Kindergarten days behind and beginning elementary school. Becoming "ein Schulkind".
Meanwhile others continue to enjoy their holiday, and have this milestone moment still ahead of them.
A German child's very first day of grade school, "Einschulung" in German, is a landmark in their lives, and honored throughout Germany as a special occasion, with family gatherings, ceremonial speeches, music, singing and school traditions. Including a formal introduction to their teacher and future classroom before the new pupils are returned to their accompanying parents for all those photographs to be taken for posterity.
The German School/Candy Cone, Schultüte, or Zuckertüte (sugar bag) as it is still known in some parts of the country as originally it was filled with sweet things of one type or another, is an enchanting custom. It began in the early 19th century in the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, and over the years was adopted by the rest of the country.
In the beginning the large decorated and labelled cardboard cone, now often taller than the average first grader, was taken to the school, hung from a Schultüten-Baum (School Cone Tree) and handed to the children later, but this tradition did not catch on in the rest of Germany where it became the custom for Godparents to present it to the new pupil.
Now it is more likely to be an exciting project made to their own design by children during their last weeks of Kindergarten; by parents who have fun with paste and paper making one either at home, or sitting on child size chairs and at small tables in their child's class room. While it might not be quite the same, in the weeks before school begins there are always thousands to choose from for sale.
It is a tradition that originated in the middle ages with Schulbrezel (School Pretzel), with a Brezel Baum, Pretzel tree, said to be growing in either the cellar or attic of the school building. For those first days at school the teacher would "harvest" some Brezeln every day after lessons had ended, then share them among the pupils until, after two weeks at the latest, the Brezel Baum was empty.
The thrill of those first school days can wear off rather quickly, even in those days, so it was a type of "Trostpflaster", a consolation, and it is thought that it was a practice within the Jewish community that first inspired the custom. The giving of letter shaped cakes, or Challah, to Tora students.
It was the individual towns who paid for the Brezeln originally, but after parents were asked to contribute they chose instead to use what would have been their donation in their own way; so the Pretzel custom died out and the Zuckertüte tradition began.
Schulbrezeln, large pretzel shaped or plaited circular raisin yeast buns with egg yolk glaze, sliced almonds and crushed sugar lump topping, are still a traditional gift at the start of the school year for children of any age.
Although as a custom it is not so universally followed as Germany's school cone.
The contents of a Schultüte/Zuckertüte must remain a surprise for the recipient, however although they might have been called Zuckertüten in the past these are days of "Healthy Living", so fillings now range from school supplies, soap bubbles, torches, books, and toys to a DVD, clock or any other small gift that can fit inside. Nevertheless as you would expect there will be at least some sweets, especially those Gummi Bears, chocolates, or cookies in there; after all the whole idea is to help sweeten those first few days of school life.
So it is no surprise that for generations six-year-olds starting out on their exciting, if challenging, new "Lebensphase", have enjoyed a first day of school that was a positive and fun filled experience few will ever forget.
A 'How To', with all the instructions for making your own Schultuete,
Illustrations: The 2010 winners of the best "self made" Schultueten in Cronenberg, North Rhine-Westphalia, courtesy cronenberger-woche.de, and First Graders with their Schulbrezeln at Grundschule Beuern, Buseck in Hessen.
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