Every year on September 1st since 1984, residents of the former Soviet Union celebrate “Day of Knowledge” otherwise known as the “First Bell.” Teachers, students, and parents follow tradition for the first day of the academic year by congregating in school yards across the Russian-speaking world to witness the first bell. The holiday is meant to celebrate the importance and appreciation of education.
A headmaster typically makes a speech in front of the students who are lined up by class. A senior student will carry a first year student throughout the crowd to ring a small bell signifying the start of the year – even if it lands on a Saturday. Students sing songs and more recently, parties in the forest or cafes are sometimes planned. Students then go off to their classrooms to celebrate and readjust to school in a fun way for the remainder of the day.
Parents make sure their children are looking their very best to meet their teachers and greet their peers. Girls wear dresses and boys wear a shirt and tie, if not a suit. New school uniforms or first-bell outfits are necessary purchases, especially because children in this part of the world tend to dress more formally for school. Some mothers and grandmothers buy knitting supplies to make their daughters or granddaughters new tops for the new school year.
The well-dressed students typically bring flowers, chocolates, and other small gifts for their respective teachers. Sometimes older students pool their money together to buy their teacher a joint gift.
Like most other places, parents purchase back-to-school supplies leading up to the first day of school. Purchases in late August include backpacks and other academic supplies. Young girls and boys especially love carrying pencil cases with fun designs, making those items a must-have. Parents may also give their younger children books about the first bell holiday.
The local news stations often sends a correspondent to film the event and interview students and teachers about the upcoming academic year. Although summer is coming to a close, this day brings lots of joy and excitement to those involved!