Colourfully decorated cones packed with goodies, a special yogurt or a bouquet of flowers for the teachers. All around the world there are celebrations when children start school. Some of them are similar, but there are also some unique rituals around the world. According to a report by UNICEF in August 20211, however, the start has been indefinitely postponed for 140 million children due to the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 8 million first year pupils have been waiting for more than a year to finally get the chance to go to school. Their celebrations will be all the merrier when the school gates finally open for them on their first day.
Apart from the welcome ceremonies that are held in many countries, there are some very typical rituals on the first day of school. Whether together at school or in private surroundings, relatives are invited to celebrate the start of school together. In Mexico and Germany as well many other countries, lots of photos are taken to commemorate the start of this new phase of life.
"In Mexico, the children gather in the school playground to raise the Mexican flag and welcome the new pupils. After this ceremony, the children go to their classrooms to get to know each other and their teacher." Andrea Núñez Oberg, freelancer, Mexico
It is also common practice in Mexico, Germany and Italy, and elsewhere, that no normal lessons take place on the first day of school. The focus is much more on getting to know each other and the surroundings. In many countries school uniform is compulsory. In poorer regions, such as South Africa and Brazil, the act of purchasing, unpacking and trying these new uniforms on is something to be celebrated. In Russia and Ukraine, it is common for girls to braid white and colourful ribbons into their plaits. Teachers also receive bouquets of flowers from the children. In Ukraine, the children receive a small gift in return.
Not every country attaches such great significance to this day. In Japan, for example, there is only a small ceremony in the assembly hall or the playground. In France and Nigeria, on the other hand, there are no rituals or ceremonies at all. In Nigeria, the first day of school is just like any other school day, with the checking of fingernails, communal singing and sports in the morning.
Like in France and Nigeria, the start of school is not very important in Spain. At the age of 3, children start preschool, also called "infantil". Children start separately so that the teachers can welcome, get to know and acclimatise the newcomers individually. This preschool is structured similarly to the primary school and is often located in the same school building. This means that when the pupils start primary school at the age of 6, they are already familiar with the routine and surroundings. They look forward to meeting all their school friends again after the long summer holidays.
“In Spain, some town halls have started putting on a little show for schools, such as a play, for example, that children can attend on the first day of school.“Miriam Morante Bonte, AIJU trend researcher, Spain
Around the world, some countries have unique traditions when children start school. In India, for example, children start the day by eating a special yogurt that is supposed to bring them good luck in their school career. In addition, parents paint the traditional red dot on their foreheads, also called a tika or tilaka. This is considered a Hindu blessing in India. In Greenland, starting school is one of the most important celebrations in life. It is marked by a large school ceremony. The flag of Greenland is hoisted and children wear the traditional costume, both of which are intended to show national pride and strengthen the school community. In the UK, there is a just a ceremony at school with teachers and pupils. A unique feature here, however, is that the class teacher visits the family at home beforehand. Getting to know each other for the first time in this way bridges the gap between everyday school life and the children's homes.
In Germany, in addition to the celebration with relatives and the joint ceremony at school with a speech by the head, there is a unique ritual: Parents give their children a special "school cone" and a satchel on the first day of school. These are filled with useful school items as well as lots of sweets and small gifts. In addition, the children often receive new clothes and look very smart for the many photos, often taken by a professional photographer. The "school cone" is the central feature of the photos. Parents chose a motif to suit their child or even make the cones themselves.
“It may sound like a joke, but it's true: when parents in Italy see their children again after the first day of school, the mothers ask, 'So, what did you do?' and the children answer, 'Nothing.'“Daniele Caroli, trade journalist, Italy
In Italy, the process of starting school is similar to that in other European countries. In addition to taking photos, shopping together for school items as well as various games in the classroom to get to know each other, there is a widespread ritual: at the end of the school day, the teachers take photos of the children and tell them that these, along with the names they have written themselves, will be hung up in the classroom the next day. In this way, the teachers arouse the curiosity of the pupils so that they look forward to the next day at school.
One thing is certain after the weeks and months of school closures and home schooling: students worldwide value school much more than they did before the pandemic. So it remains to be hoped that teachers can soon welcome the 140 million children who are still waiting for their first day of school.