One day historians will look back at America and point to three significant cultural contributions to the world: hot dogs, apple pie and spring break.
Throughout my lifetime, the once quiet weeklong break in the school calendar somehow morphed itself into a marketing and travel juggernaut. Where once the window equated to sleeping in for a few days, today’s culture bakes in the expectation of exotic travel or some equally exciting use of the time saving the planet.
I grew up in a home where the biggest room in the house was the garage. Spring break meant sleeping in and not doing homework each night. We didn’t even know anyone who would take a trip over spring break outside that of a distant relative’s funeral.
In our neighborhood, spring brought crawdads, tadpoles and little league baseball sign-ups. The first two were free; the second might require convincing across the dinner table. Back then parents did not intentionally build activities into every open window their kids might have — be it a weekend, after school or even in the mornings. We were just kids making up life each day, letting adventure lead us where it may.
Then came MTV, changing America and the world’s perception of spring break forever. The televised event aptly titled “MTV’s Spring Break” poured hours of festival programming into living rooms featuring lots of music and equally less clothing. Once somewhat contained to Daytona Beach, the fever for more events from which to make money quickly spread. And with the fever came the change to America’s psyche that the once quiet window of time would now demand the days to be filled with plans, excitement or adventure.
Asking another person what they did over spring break went from polite conversation to a competitive challenge — as if two Sumo wrestlers stood facing each other fighting for the top social status.
Ironically, today I live on an island where spring break is an essential part of the annual economic model. Hotels fill up, restaurants stop taking reservations and you can pretty much successfully play the license plate game in minutes.
Spring break is every bit as much a part of the national annual calendar now as the week of Thanksgiving and Christmas. Today, parents and tourism groups are quick to defend against any changes to the schedules. And interestingly, many teachers are challenged or scorned should they consider issuing homework to be completed over the weeklong window.
In a strange twist, the spring break mentality influences even those without kids in school. So embedded is this feeling today I feel like I am opting out or missing out on some special opportunity by not having plans during a spring break — years after our kids became adults.
I no longer wade knee-deep in creeks armed with an empty coffee can and my bare hands. But if I did, I’m willing to bet there is someone willing to pay for such the eco-friendly experience of hunting tadpoles and crawdads for spring break.
Leonard Woolsey is president of Southern Newspapers Inc. and publisher of The Daily News in Galveston County, Texas.