A very big event just happened in my family. As an American, I am still caught by surprise by German traditions. I do love them and embrace them, it is just that sometimes I do not know what or how a particular thing is done. Where is the handbook for this? Asking, sharing, and telling I suppose. So, you new to Germany Moms or ones with small children, this is especially for you! My boys were eingeschult in September. Which means they started their first day of first grade in the local German school. This is a very big day here and in most of Germanic Europe. I remember being in a meeting in Zürich, Switzerland, where I was working at the time, when a man stood up and said “I have to leave now, my daughter is starting her first day of school. Tschüß.” And I thought, “Hey! We are having a meeting here, what the…?” Then, single and very career minded, I did not understand how someone could put such a priority on something like the first day of school and not care about god-knows-what-meeting we were having! Isn’t it wonderful that folks here are more concerned with the beauty and importance (“Der Ernst des Lebens” was most often written on Timmy and Toby’s cards!) of this meaningful day in a child’s life than another day at work? I think they have their priorities straight! The new first graders start a few days later than the rest of the school, so they can have all the attention. The child is escorted to school by his parents, family, godparents and anyone else who wants to come along. He/she proudly carries a, normally giant, Schultüte. Traditionally, the Oma makes the cardboard cone-shaped goodie bag for the first grader to carry along his way to school. My dear German mother-in-law passed away when the boys were babies, so the sister of my husband told me she would make the Schultüten. These are goodie bags deluxe! Customary only in Germany, they are given to children to make this anxiously awaited first day of school a little bit sweeter. Originally filled with only sweets (the tradition dates back to the early 1800s from East Germany) and today filled with still oodles of candy but also school supplies and presents (Abitur 2020 printed on a t-shirt was an adorable gift until I realized how old I would be when they graduated from “high school” in 2020!?!) The entire day is devoted to the new school kids. First day of school is just a short one. (Plan to take off all day from work!) A play by the 4th graders, in our case, followed by kids meeting their teachers while the family drank coffee. I’ll tell you how big this day is, the Block House near us was booked out a month in advance! Usually a nice lunch is in order and the kids get to eat the candy all day long, adding more excitement to an already exhilarating day! It was a special family day and I was happy to be here. A friend reminded me to think of these wonderful “foreign” traditions when I am thinking of how far away I am from my homeland and if I have made the right decision to remain in Germany. That was good advice!
originally published in Currents Oct/Nov 2008