A festival for children, relatives, and dentists.
Grandparents, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins – Every family member is invited to share this special day with their young relative. It is the first big step in a child’s life, on their way to becoming a young man or woman. On this day, the German school system takes a leading role in human socialization. It is the first day of school. Many boys and girls look forward to this special and once-in-a-lifetime occasion. Of course, they are hungry for education. They want to learn how to write, to read, and to calculate. And they want candy. Lots of it – and it’s coming their way.
The day usually starts in the late morning. The children and their parents are invited to their elementary school to meet new classmates, new teachers, the principal, or to simply get acquainted with the school building. Normally, second or third graders perform a show in the auditorium for the youngest students. They show, in a fun and entertaining way, how the new student’s every day school life will be. They sing songs for them and act out correct behaviors. I remember my first day of school in 1989. The batman movies were very famous at that time so of course they had to put that super-action bat into their role play. The play usually lasts an hour, including the principal’s speech about how amazing it is to be able to write grandmother a postcard from their vacation. That’s usually the first hurdle the first grader has to jump. It serves as a little taste of what the children can expect. Right after this show, when the young girls and boys had to sit still, their class teacher takes them to their classrooms. The children play little games with the teacher to get to know one another. Meanwhile, the parents and some other teachers prepare the Candy Cones outside of the classrooms to hand them over to the first graders.
Candy Cones – yes candy. It is a German tradition to celebrate a child’s first day of school. This treat, also called a School Cone, is a gift from their parents and is supposed to sweeten their first day in real life. One can buy cones during the summer before school in almost every supermarket in Germany. Some of them are already stuffed with hard candy, chocolate, gummy bears, lollipops and other cavity-causing treats. But many parents like to stuff their own cone. I remember that I had a Matchbox car in it. It also contained school supplies, such as pencils, notebooks or a pen, and a pencil case. In addition to candy, I also got a stuffed animal that I still have and that recently became a part of my brother’s best man speech at my wedding.
Once the class teacher finishes up the get-to-know-one-another meeting, the class steps in front of the school building to receive their Candy Cones. Besides graduation or the first kiss on a school trip, the School Cone truly is one of the highlights of every German student’s life. As such, parents and grandparents snap picture after picture of the new student and the School Cone. My Candy Cone was probably as tall as I was. I remember how heavy that cone was and how I had to protect my candy from my Grandfather’s sweet tooth. Every dentist’s client load must increase directly following this first day of school in Germany. Unfortunately, I was unable to find reliable statistics to prove my theory, but I am sure that those cones cost some of the young students one or two fillings. It did for me – that’s for sure. And, until I will receive my first fake teeth, my fillings will always remind me of the Cone my parents gave me 22 years ago.
The afternoon of the first day of school is reserved for family events – homemade cake or cookies with coffee in the afternoon, with dinner at night or backyard barbecues. I remember that I had my dinner with my family in the Rote Rathaus, the city hall of Berlin. The American tradition is a little different. But I am certain that no matter where my children will have their first day of school, my wife and I want them to have the same once-in-a-lifetime experience that my parents gave me.