Like Western democracy, Socratic philosophy, written histories, epic poetry, and every other foundational pillar of high culture, spring break began in ancient Greece.
Called "Anthestreria" by the local teens, and their parents, it was a festival dedicated to Dionysus, the god of wine and whoopee and just about every excuse to party. For three days, people would dance, singers would perform, women would deck themselves with flowers, and Greek men would compete to see who could be the fastest to drain a cup of red wine.
Two thousand years later, practically nothing has changed except our taste in chugging alcohol. While Anthestreria is immortalized in terracotta wine vessels in world-class museums (below), you might think today's spring break rituals are as easily forgotten by history as they are by memory-blighted college students. But for the American cities that host students, the impact is not so brief, as John Laurie explained in his fascinating economic study Spring Break: The Economic, Socio-Cultural and Public Governance Impacts of College Students on Spring Break Host Locations.
The paper begins, as spring break did, in Greece, before the rise of Christianity put an end to kylix head-stands and other childish things for two thousand years. It wasn't until the mid-twentieth century that modern spring break emerged. In 1934, Sam Ingram, a Colgate College swim coach, was looking for a warm place to keep his swimmers in shape. He chose the small, quiet town of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. More swimming instructors followed. During World War II, rich Ivy League students, who occasionally visited Bermuda during their spring breaks, were suddenly spooked by rumors of German U-Boats roaming the Caribbean. The best intracontinental alternative was to meet up with the swimmer co-eds in Florida. And so, Ft. Lauderdale became the first official home of the American Anthestreria tradition.