The German School Cone, Schultüte, or Zuckertuete  (sugar bag) is an enchanting custom that originated in the early 19th century in the eastern states of Saxony and Thuringia, and was gradually adopted by the rest of the country.

A German child’s very first day of grade school, known as Einschulung in German, is a landmark in their lives, and honored throughout Germany as a special occasion, with family gatherings together with ceremonial speeches, music, singing and school tradition. Including a formal introduction to their teacher and future classroom before they are returned to their accompanying parents for all those photographs taken for posterity.

Initially the large decorated and labelled cardboard cone, now often taller than the average first grader, was taken to the school, hung from a Schultueten-Baum (School Cone Tree) and later handed to the kids, but this tradition did not catch on in the rest of Germany where it became the custom for the Godparents to present it to the new pupil. Now however it is more likely to be given by parents who either have have fun making one themselves, or choose from the thousands for sale before school begins.Although kindergarteners making one to their own design is an exciting project for many during their final year of Kindergarten.The beginnings of the tradition are in the middle ages with Schulbrezel (School Pretzel), when a Brezel Baum, a Pretzel tree, was said to be growing in either the cellar or the roof of the school building, and for those first days at school the teacher would “harvest” some Brezeln every day after lessons had ended and share them amongst the pupils until, at the latest after two weeks, the tree was empty.The thrill of the first days at school can wear off rather quickly, even in those days, so it was a type of Trostpflaster, or consolation, and it is thought that it was the practice within the Jewish community, of giving letter shaped cakes, or challah, to Tora students, which first inspired the custom.Originally the individual towns paid for the Brezeln, but after parents were asked to contribute they chose instead to use what would have been their donation in their own way, so that custom died out and the Zuckertuete tradition began.

However Schulbrezeln, large pretzel shaped or plaited circular raisin yeast buns, with an egg yolk glaze and sliced almonds with 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 that of Germany’s school cone.

The contents of a Schultuete must remain a surprise for the recipient, however, although it might have been accurately called a Zuckertuete in the past, in these days of healthy living the filling now ranges from school supplies, soap bubbles, torches, books, and toys to DVD’s, clocks and any other small gifts 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 which was a positive and fun filled experience few will ever forget.