Rite of Spring

Illustrator Craig La Rotonda, with Richard Ernsberger Jr., helps to conjure up the annual spring break trip.

Craig La Rotonda

We tend to associate the annual ritual known as spring break with college kids who flock to beach cities in Florida and Texas, and there drink copious amounts of alcohol and chase each other around in bathing suits. But according to a “highly unofficial” history on the website SpringBreak.com, this restorative week actually has its roots in ancient Greek and Roman societies, when men and women welcomed the return of spring in rituals celebrating the Greek god Dionysus and the Roman god Bacchus. These rituals included—not surprisingly—dancing and drinking and the enjoyment of… well, earthly pleasures.

In 1936, according to a 2010 Time magazine article, the swimming coach at Colgate University brought his team to Fort Lauderdale to train in the first Olympic-size pool in Florida. Other teams followed suit and within a few years hundreds of swimmers were spending the break in Florida, “and a bacchanal was born.” The spring break movie Where the Boys Are soon followed, and it wasn’t long before a southern beach trip became a collegiate tradition.

Families make spring break road trips to warmer climes themselves, of course, though this version of the “bacchanal” is more sedate. Still, it is the trip you look forward to all year—the chance to unplug and unwind. Even if you arrive at the beach and are greeted by what the meteorologists say is “unseasonably cold” weather, and your teenage son listens to his iPod for hours while your teenage daughter spends the week talking on the phone to her BFF, and Grandma—who has driven up to join you—regales you with stories about her cats, you succeed in ditching your thoughts of work and worry and settle into a state of peace and tranquility—except, of course, for the small tantrum you throw when the beach umbrella goes airborne. Still, when you leave you know you return home with a fresh attitude, and another really good-looking palm tree T-shirt.

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