Summer is so quickly coming to an end. Creating memories with our children is usually the goal and I feel we were quite successful this year. We do this during the school year as well but the summer holiday offers more concentrated doses of time brimming with opportunity. May I share some of the motivation for this emphasis on memory-making and a favorite new tradition we are testing out?

School, books and media are always asking us and our children about the difference we will make in the world but do you ever ask yourself: "What am I leaving behind?" or "What will I be remembered for?" on a domestic scale? 


Our memorable summer nights in Wales last month 

My grandmother left potent memories and a million triggers to conjure them. My wife claims that this particular grandmother has claimed a good portion of the world around us because so many things remind me of her. She wasn't vivacious or overly opinionated. She simply loved life and let us know. I know her favorite animals (penguins and giraffe), the flowers she liked best and their names (all of them), the smells she was fond of (anise, cinnamon, and lilac) and her favorite sports teams (BYU and the 49'ers). Every time I see someone in the neighborhood cutting down a tree or taking out a bush I think of the time she cried almost hysterically when they removed the shrubbery around our church. She felt the same way when, as a boy, I buzzed my head. I haven't buzzed it since.

She also owns the color red. A good red lipstick, ascot, hair bow or pair of shades reminds me of something her father once told her and she lived by: "Always wear a bit of red around your face". I love these sparks of memory and I do my best to pass them on to my children giving her the claim and keeping her memory alive and well. Am I this memorable to my children? Will my friends and family have mental reminders of me when I am gone?

Sociologists talk about family narratives as the cure to all sorts of social ills. We are far less likely to lose our way (mentally, morally or otherwise) if we know where we come from. Creating a personal and family narrative has become an important element of life. My fascination with celebrations, traditions, travel and distinct objects stems from this desire to form a narrative for my family and friends that will ground us all and remind us (when we need it) of who we are, what we hold dear, and where joy and confidence dwell. Thus, I regularly find myself enamored by foreign traditions or those of a bygone era. 

All dressed up with their Schultute for the first day of school 

One of these traditions I would love to share as the school year looms ahead is the schultüte tradition from Germany. I love this tradition and have not yet fully developed it in my own family. It's a work in progress. Starting way back in the early 1800's the grandparents or godparents in most German-speaking areas of Europe would make a beautifully decorated paper cone for a child's first day of school. They would be told a story that when the fruit is ripe on the schultuten-baum, it is time to go to school. The school would have a designated tree or even a metal tree made to hang the school cones on.

Schultuten-baum with onlookers 

When the child arrived on the first day of school he or she would look for the cone bearing their own name and carefully remove it. They would open it to find sweets, school supplies, even toys and clothing. 

I love this simple tradition because of what it celebrates. We believe in education and in making it sweet. I want my children to know that school is a privilege and I want them to connect high-impact days with a sense of pleasure and a token of my love. I have yet to fully enact this tradition which involves grandparents and the school board or at least the PTA. However, the first day of school, my kids find in the tree by our front porch a little cone. We take their picture and let them open the cone on the way to school. They are simple to make and ours are quite small, but they are meaningful. We have two different types of cones. If you want something durable, to use year after year, we have these metal celebration cones

Or we have our festive paper cones that are a bit smaller, but can still be stuffed with goodness. Some of my favorite things to put in the cones are these pencils with clever book references and sayings. I also love the ideas of a surprise ball clementine to unwrap. I also love all these tiny little treasures like washi tapepocket crayons, matchbox blocks, matchbox games, brass boxes, wooden spinning tops, and more. For teens, things like a silk hair ribbon, clothespin book light, a brass heart bookmark, or book darts would also be fun! Shop our back-to-school collection for treasures to fill your cones

My memorable grandma also owns many of my school memories. She didn't know about schultuten but her house was along the route home from school and she always had a cookie (more often store bought than homemade) and sometimes bread pudding for me. It meant we got a few minutes together almost every day. Needless to say my education was made sweet by my family. My family narrative is rich and lasting because of them as well. 

July 22, 2021 — Brad Roberts


Renee Florsheim said:

My parents were from Germany, so my sister and I both got these (my mother called it a Zuckertute) when we started school. I’ve been in Germany at the beginning at the school year and seen them there. I’d never heard that they were supposed to be given by grandparents (it’s possible, though, since mine were I’ll and couldn’t have done it).

Frank said:

We are a german family who travelled in USA with our twins 5 years ago and this year. On the first trip we met Brad and his family and visited them again this year. We shared a wonderfull time with them and their loving family. After our trip this year our kids went to school and i wanted to share the german tradition of Schultüte with Brad and sent him an eMail with photos and the background. And he replied that he knows this tradition and even wrote a blog article about it. This coincidence was amazing and i wanted to share ;-)

Kim Andersen said:

My family spent 3 years in Germany with the army. I grew to love that country and its traditions. I would love it if Meghan B. would share her recipe for stollen.

Monica said:

Thank you for these beautiful words. My mother passed away unexpectedly last October and my mind has been filled with these very thoughts. The many personalized, unique things that were part of her that will always remind me of the magical childhood she gave to me and my brothers. I’ve been pondering what magic I may be creating now that my own children will look back to fondly and teary-eyed someday when I am gone. To leave a mark on the ones I truly love is what I’ve been thinking about so much lately. I appreciate reading thoughts from those who are doing the same.

Meghan B. said:

You said you wanted to hear more of my German traditions, my great-grandfather was the school teacher who spoiled his daughters with ENORMOUS cones on the first day of school. (We have old family pics, the cones were like as big as they were. XD) Anyway, in my family we have a couple recipes, one for sauerbraten, and one for Christmas Stöllen. The stöllen recipe had to be tweaked by my Opa because American ingredients are so different from German/European ones. But over the years he has managed to perfect it to be as authentic as it gets and this past Christmas was the first time he passed the recipe on to me!! <3 I’ve made the sauerbraten recipe many times, totally got my husband hooked on it. But the stöllen recipe is older and goes back further. It was surprising to me how instantly connected to my ancestors I felt when I was given that recipe. It made me feel like I was part of something bigger. That’s probably silly. Anyway, most of our traditions are around Christmas time. For example, our homes are always FILLED with little German trinkets, ornaments, decorations, and those candle/windmill/pyramid spinners. My Oma and Opa always have Onkle Ernst ship over boxes and boxes and boxes of all the best lebkuchen in those super cute Christmas tins. (From Nürnburger of course!) I’ve been blessed to be gifted with 3 of those tins. I love displaying them. We go caroling in German every year. We sing “Stille Nacht” (Silent Night) “O Tannenbaum” (Oh Christmas Tree) and “Ihr Kinderlein Kommet” (Oh Come Little Children). We’ve done this every year ever since I was a tiny toddler. We used to ride around on hay bales in a trailer bed back in the 90’s. We also opened all our Christmas gifts on Christmas Eve. Then on Christmas Day we’d open stockings full mostly of food. My Oma and Opa (in particular) are very proud of our German Heritage and they have worked hard to keep traditions alive and keep us connected to our past so we know where we came from and can always feel like we belong somewhere. My Oma is actually a pretty amazing person she came over to America during WWII when she was 16 years old on her own. She taught herself English. She endured a lot during the war, her house was completely bombed, there actually is a ceramic eagle on her mantle that she brought over from Germany. One main support beam in her house had somehow landed/balanced on the Eagle’s head so she and her family were able to at least get a few belongings out of the rubble because of it. It’s just incredible. She saw dead bodies all in the streets at age 12. We have pictures of their home before and after the bombs. Sorry this comment got to be a lot longer than I intended!! Probably only 2 or 3 things are actually interesting. Ha ha, sorry!

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