Informant: “I don’t know if you have this in the States, but we get school cones. Do you know what that is? Well, you know how a cone is where you put ice cream inside? And we get massive ones on our first day of school, but filled with gifts.”
Interviewer: “And what is in these cones?”
Informant: “Mostly presents of any type. It can be sweets, it can be stuff for school, it can basically be pretty much everything.”
Interviewer: “And are these presents supposed to make students feel better about having to go back to school?”
Informant: “No, no. This is only on the very first day, when everyone is super excited anyways. And it’s just to make the start even more special. And then it’s usually grandparents and everybody coming to the school and we have a big ceremony where the classes are announced and who is in which class, with which teacher and stuff. Yeah, it’s actually sweet. And in my family we went out for lunch later, and we just ate. So that is what I did.”
Interviewer: “What are they called, the cone things in German?”
Informant: “School cone, schultüte.”
Schultüte translates into English as ‘school bag’, even though the object is in a cone shape. A Schultüte is a cone shaped cardboard cup filled with things such as chocolates, small gifts, and practical gifts for school like pencils or crayons. These are given to children in Germany and Austria by parents and grandparents on their first day of school, especially upon entering kindergarden. This tradition appears to only be for younger children. The tradition first appeared in the early 19th century in Germany. It first began in the bigger cities, but the tradition soon spread to the rural areas of Germany and is now a common custom in Germany and Austria today. When the tradition first began, the school cones were not directly given to the children as they are today. Children’s names were written on the cones, and then were hung from a metal Schultüten-Baum or ‘school cone tree’. The children had to then pick the school cones off the trees without breaking them. There is a story connected to this that says adults would say to the children that if the school cone tree was ripe with school cones, than it was time to start school.
I am not sure what the connection to fruit growing on trees is for the school cones, but the cones represent an initiation for children to start the new year of school. In my research I found that my first response to the reason why school cones are given, which is to make the children less nervous about going back to school, was just as reasonable as my informant’s reasoning that it was just part of making that day even more special. The first day of school is full of all kinds of anxieties that come from starting a new school year with a new teacher and new courses. School cones are given to the children to help create an atmosphere of celebration, which makes the anxieties of change more bearable to children because the gifts make the day more exciting. I don’t know why this tradition has not spread to other countries, perhaps because it is a relatively new tradition compared to other traditions we see in folklore. I like the idea of turning the first day of school into a celebration because it makes education special in the minds of the children due to this kind of positive association with the start of school and gifts. This is not to say that in America we think of education differently than than they do in German culture, but the first day of school can bring about anxiety to children because things are unfamiliar to them. Therefore creating a happy atmosphere would be a great way to dispel any feelings of nervousness that the children feel.
My informant was born in 1992 Hamburg, Germany. She studied at USC from 2010-2011 before moving to Brussels, Belgium to study international policy planning for her undergraduate degree. She lives part time in Brussels, Belgium and part time in her hometown Hamburg, Germany.