Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Estonia's Unique School Caps Custom

I've always liked the tradition associated with starting school in Estonia. On the first day, known as 'tarkusepäev' (day of wisdom) children are given a copy of  'Aabits', an alphabet book, and wear their school caps with pride for the very first time.

Wearing school uniforms in Estonia was phased out in the majority of schools by the late 1980s but one item of apparel that remained, still worn by all today, is the school cap. It's a symbol of identity, unity and belonging.  Caps were first worn at educational institutions during the period of Estonia's national awakening, a custom influenced by Baltic German traditions.

During school years it is considered very important to own a student cap, or 'tekkel' as its known in Estonian. Each school has its own unique design which differentiates itself from other schools hence fostering that sense of identity and belonging. The purpose of wearing the school cap is to impart a sense of community and to increase the visibility of the school, particularly during external events.

The tekkel is no ordinary hat and there are rules associated with wearing one.
1. The cap must be kept clean at all times.
2. It must always be worn in the straight position but when welcoming someone it should be lifted up.
3. When singing the national anthem the cap must be taken off.
4. If a student is expelled from the school it is expected that the cap be returned.
5. The cap is forbidden to be worn by another person.
6. After graduation students keep their caps as remembrance.

Some examples of student caps.

Rapla Ühisgümnaasium

Tallinna Reaalkool / Tallinn Secondary Science School

Most of the boys in my family attended Tallinn's Reaal School which was formerly known as Peter's Reaalkool. The cap was originally black and orange in colour. The design changed in 1921.

Viljandi Gümnaasium

School caps are not only worn by schoolchildren but by university students as well.

Tallinn University of Technology

Tallinn University

University of Tartu

The Estonian Academy of Security Sciences

Here are my grandparents with their school caps. I'm not sure which secondary schools they attended. My grandfather Alexander did not follow in the family footsteps and study at the Reaal school like his father, uncles and cousin, he attended school elsewhere. My grandmother went to school in Tartu.