Having grown up in a Greek-American household, tradition was—and still is—a big part of my life. As a child, it seemed there was a tradition for everything. I loved the one for cracking Easter eggs, where we’d run around smashing the colored orbs, one on the other, each time shouting a Greek phrase, the meaning of which I haven’t a clue. I hope it was something Easter-ish. The winner with the unadulterated egg was promised good luck for the coming year, but if your egg got cracked in all the mayhem, it was anybody’s guess what could happen. Then there was the spitting tradition, which many of you already know if you’ve ever seen “My Big Fat Greek Wedding.” Now it wasn’t a real spit, but rather just a symbolic little puff of air. We’d puff on new babies, brides, new cars—you name it. If luck was what you wanted, three rounds of symbolic spit supposedly never failed. And no one in his right mind would dare test it. There are, of course, many other traditions (see Lamb 101: A member of all five food groups), each adding its own unique shade to my life.
Northern Europe, on the other hand, is much more genteel than its gregarious neighbors to the south. It, too, has a variety of traditions, though none, to my knowledge, involves smashing or spitting or the vagaries of good luck. One such tradition about which I recently became aware is the Schultüte. In Germany and Austria, families present their child with this gift on the first day of first grade: a colorful paper cone filled with gifts, treats and school supplies. The cone is hung on the outside of the child’s bedroom door the night before school as a special surprise. Vivian Lie, who was born and raised in Munich and now lives in Chicago, has made it her mission to bring this lovely tradition to the US, thus she founded KinderCone in 2008. Each 28-inch KinderCone is handmade in Germany from recycled paper, then filled with a variety of small gifts, including a journal, plush toy, pencils and more.
I met Lie and two of her four beautiful daughters a couple of weeks ago, and she is a passionate proponent of this tradition, which, she says, makes the first day of school a very special event. In Europe, many adults still have their Schultüte, which they have saved as a treasured memento. I think KinderCone is a great endeavor, since it emphasizes the importance of school, writing and creativity. Lie and I lamented over coffee the fact that children in the US are not allowed to use fountain pens in school. In Germany, the Schultüte would most probably include a Pelikan student pen.