I took a break from my 'round-the-clock Oktoberfest preparations last week to attend what has become an annual event for me -- the first day of school at St. Mary.

I took a break from my 'round-the-clock Oktoberfest preparations last week to attend what has become an annual event for me -- the first day of school at St. Mary.

For the last three years I've been asked to attend a wonderful opening ceremony of sorts at the school that involves lots of well-wishing for the first grade students about to embark upon a momentous endeavor.

The ceremony is to welcome the first graders to what is the beginning of their formal education. Each grade welcomes them in their own way -- with songs, puzzles, poems, you name it, and they wish the first graders luck in what will undoubtedly be a memorable year (for the parents anyway).

All of this surrounds the Schul-tuete, or "school cone" that each first grade student receives.

It's a German tradition dating to the early 1800s and St. Mary adopted it several years ago under the leadership of fourth-grade teacher Mrs. Cotter.

The idea behind the Schultuete is to add sweetness to the first day of school and alleviate any nerves or concerns about being a "big kid" while celebrating the importance of education.

The Schultuete is a cone-shaped gift that's filled with sweets, toys, and other goodies all secured for the kids to open. Incidentally, the cones are nearly as big as most of the kids.

Each first-grader is presented their cone, then marches off to have their photo taken, all under the watchful eye of the older students who have imparted their sage advice on what it's like to be in school.

Some tips from the second-graders -- those arguably the most knowledgeable since they were most recently in the first grade -- were "listen to your teacher" and "you'll miss your friends at the end of the year." Invaluable indeed.

The ceremony ends with the kindergarten students hanging tiny Schultueten on the Schultueten Baum (think Christmas tree) to nurture them and watch them grow throughout the school year. Then when they're grown completely, its' time for them to be picked on the first day of school next year.

It's a ceremony that brings German culture into an environment so heavy with German history and tradition. St. Mary students learn very early (literally day one) about a bit of German heritage and will carry that with them throughout their time in German Village.

And you thought Oktoberfest was the only German celebration in town! But speaking of OktoberfestÉ

All of our planning is falling into place, and we're working out some minor details at this point. The map is set, the vendors are ready to go, the bands are booked. Now it's just a matter of everything arriving on site intact and ready to meet a crowd!

We'd love to have as many German Villagers as possible involved in Oktoberfest, so please plan to attend and even better, plan to volunteer. It's a good time, you'll share in camaraderie and all the Polka you can stand, and you'll be contributing to the Society's biggest fundraiser which helps to fund our programming throughout the rest of the year.

But most importantly, you'll see and be seen at the Best Party in Town! See you there ~ Sept. 5, 6, and 7 at Genoa Park on the Riverfront!

Jody Graichen is the interim executive director of the German Village Society and columnist for ThisWeek German Village.