Students, teachers, parents, school and parish staff, and guests gathered in the school’s gymnasium this afternoon for a traditional German first-day-of-school celebration known as Ein Schulungsfeier. During the celebration, first graders received Schultüte, large decorated paper cones filled with treats.
Fourth-grade teacher Linda Cotter brought the tradition to St. Mary School about 10 years ago. She was born in Germany, but left the country before she received her own Schultüte, so she wanted to share the tradition with everyone at the school. Every year, Mrs. Cotter orders the Schultüte from the Nestler company in Erfriederensdorf, Germany, the largest provider of traditional Schultüte in Germany. Karen Bouchard, the first grade’s teacher, joins Mrs. Cotter to shop for school supplies, treats and toys to fill the cones.
The Schultüte tradition goes back to the early 19th century, when parents living in the small German towns of Saxony and Thuringia like Dresden and Leipzig gave their first graders a sweet wrapped in paper to make them feel less nervous about starting school. Soon, the custom spread to larger German cities, and the “little package” grew to become a paper cone filled with toys, chocolate, candies, school supplies and other treats. In modern-day Germany, presenting the Schultüte is an important community event that begins and ends at home with a special breakfast and dinner with family and friends.
At this time of year, German store windows are filled with Schultüte displays, like this one we saw last year at the Ampelmann Shop in Berlin.
We’ve even timed our visits to Germany so we could bring home our own Schultüte decorated with characters from Marcus Pfister’s book, Rainbow Fish, and a Käthe Wohlfahrt figurine of a little girl holding a Schultüte.
Some German parents take the cones to school and hang them on a “Schultüten-Baum” (school cone tree) for their children to pick. At St. Mary School, Kindergarteners hang little handmade Schultüte on a tree when they finish the school year and anticipate becoming first graders. Today, a small tree was placed by the school’s stage to recognize that tradition.
Dressed in their navy-and-gold uniforms, the first graders sat in the front row with their seventh-grade buddies as Mrs. Cotter welcomed them to the new school year.
“This is your day,” Mrs. Cotter told them. “This is a really important year, and we are all here to help you.”
Several special guests were on hand to celebrate with St. Mary’s first graders.
The Most Reverend Frederick F. Campbell, Bishop of Columbus, taught the children a greeting he learned during the eight years he spent studying in Munich. “‘Grüß Gott,’ or ‘May God greet you,’ is a marvelous greeting that recognizes the presence of God and his blessing,” he said.
Bishop Campbell also shared that when he started first grade, his teacher gave him a pencil, then had him start working on arithmetic. “This is a much happier way of starting school,” he observed.
Dr. Joseph Brettnacher, superintendent of schools for the Catholic Diocese of Columbus, and David Walton, assistant chief of the Columbus Division of Fire, also talked to the children, recognizing the new friends, teachers and experiences ahead and encouraging them to do something unexpected for someone else throughout the school year.
The rest of the students sat in the bleachers and watched representatives of each class give a special gift to the first-grade class. Their gifts included pencils, “a nice talk,” singing favorite songs, sharing a special blessing, and promising to teach the first graders about German history and culture.
Then, Bishop Campbell presented each first grader with his or her own Schultüte.
When Father Kevin Lutz became pastor of St. Mary Church two years ago, he received a Schultüte, now on display at the Jubilee Museum so that museumgoers can learn about the tradition. This year, Father Lutz gave Bishop Campbell a Schultüte filled with incense to make sure he didn’t run out of it at St. Joseph Cathedral, the Bishop’s home church.
Schultütes also were given to Assistant Chief Walton; Father Nicholas Droll, the new associate pastor of St. Mary Church; and Kayla Walton, the new principal of St. Mary School.
Before an official picture was taken of the class with their special guests, Father Droll gave the concluding blessing. He asked for God’s help to come to know and love Our Lord Jesus Christ more every day and to love and serve each other. Both help to fulfill the purpose of Catholic education: to teach children about the love of God and fulfill their destiny to become saints.