Currently here in beautiful Coastal Georgia, we have little to complain about compared to most of the country, a lot of which has been hit by snowstorms, and also compared to my native Northern Europe, which is having its usual cold, wet and dreary winter.
Despite our envious weather conditions here, I am, nevertheless, ready for spring to arrive. I am counting down the days until daylight saving time on Sunday and warmer, longer days arrive.
One of the things that most confused me when I first moved to the United States is the excitement college kids display whenever spring break is mentioned. Some of our local university students disappear for a week’s vacation, but many of them take a series of day trips to Tybee Island, St. Simons Island or Jacksonville and like to remain near Savannah for the famous — and infamous — St. Patrick’s Day celebrations.
Of course, the first thing I had to work out was the differences in the timings of the school years and vacation breaks between the United States and Britain. In England, the schools “break up” (as we call it) in mid-July. The summer break is not only much later but also much shorter, lasting five or six weeks. However, England has much longer Christmas and Easter breaks (called the winter and spring breaks, respectively), plus an extra week in the middle of each term called half-term weeks.
So in my innocence, I believed that an American spring break roughly equated to the British spring (Easter) break, but if you are in college this is far from the case. It was explained to me by an American friend who remembered her college days fondly as “the time when we took a break from studying after exams, piled as many people as possible into someone’s car and headed to the beach, driving hundreds of miles to Florida if necessary, to reach the warmth, the parties and the opposite sex.” And to think — when I was at university, we were given “reading weeks” when we were supposed to return home to study more.
By perusing a series of fascinating articles at www.time.com, I discovered:
• The history of spring break dates to ancient times when the hedonistic Greek and Roman civilizations celebrated the season of fertility and awakening with festivals to honor their gods of wine, Dionysus and Bacchus.
• In the 1930s, the American tradition began in Fort Lauderdale with college swimming forums, developing into week long parties by the 1960s
• Movies have celebrated this tradition, such as 1961’s “Where The Boys Are,” starring George Hamilton, and 1985’s “Spring Break,” starring Tom Cruise and Shelley Long.
• While Florida remains a popular destination, in recent decades students have traveled farther south, with Panama City and the Caribbean becoming more and more popular.
Unfortunately, spring-break fever can sometimes lead to reckless behavior, and the trend for high-school students to enjoy this traditional rite of passage for older students carries its own risks.
Last year, Florida’s Alcohol and Tobacco Division confiscated more than 20,000 fake ID cards in Daytona Beach and Panama City alone during the four-week spring break season, according to the drugfreenoblecounty.org website. In the United Kingdom, the legal drinking age is 18, so the demand for fake IDs is less but, sadly, not nonexistent.
The term “spring break” now is synonymous with parties, sun, wild times and a chance to get away from the pressures of school. So whatever your family’s plans are for spring break, please be safe, educate your kids of all ages to the risks that wild times can bring, but still enjoy this glorious American tradition.
Keep in mind this quote from Texas author Joan Rylen: “Here’s to a vacation of no regrets!”
God bless America!
Francis grew up in London, England and moved to Richmond Hill in 2009. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.lesleyfrancispr.com.