Alpha Omega Council, the Boston Marathon Wreath Ceremony, the Wreath Ceremony Educational Effort
In 490 B.C. several hundred ships bearing the Persian army landed in the bay of Marathon, Greece, about 26 miles northeast of Athens. Having learned of the Persians’ approach and landing, the Athenians met in assembly and voted to march and meet the Persian invaders at Marathon. The same citizens who voted to launch this expedition donned their spears and helmets and set out to the northeast.
The battle fought at Marathon a few days later stands today as one of the most memorable feats in history. For in that battle, a group of about ten thousand Athenians defeated a Persian force many times larger. The battle saved Greece, allowing the Athenians and other Greeks to continue the form of self-government that inspired the democratic tradition that underlies modern constitutional government.
At the first modern Olympic Games held in Athens in 1896, Greece conceived of a 26 mile race to memorialize the battle of Marathon. Representatives of the Boston Athletic Association were present and were inspired to establish the first Boston Marathon the following year. Thus the Boston Marathon was founded in 1897 and was held on Massachusetts’ Patriots’ Day in order to commemorate America’s own tradition of defending liberty, offers us a chance to reflect on the reasons that citizens—individuals who perform civic duties in exchange for the privilege of governing themselves—form the heart of any free government. The marathon race itself stands as an appropriate symbol of the incredible effort required of individual citizens in order to maintain independent government, and can help illuminate the role, duties, and opportunities for civic participation today.
In 2014, in the wake of the bombings at the Boston Marathon, the Alpha Omega Council and the Consul General of Greece in Boston, Ifigenia Kanara, launched the Marathon Education Committee, to promote appreciation of the traditions of civic responsibility and liberty that the ancient Greeks demonstrated at Marathon. Partners in the Committee’s initiatives are: The Boston University Philhellenes, The Examined Life-Greek Studies in the Schools, The 26.2 Foundation, and Hopkinton Middle School’s “26.2-Desire to Inspire” Faculty.
The initiative centerpiece is the annual Marathon Essay Competition, in which 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students are invited to write an essay on aspects of the battle of Marathon and its historical significance. Winners are recognized at the annual Wreath Ceremony, held at the Massachusetts State House, at which the Greek government presents the wreaths used to crown the winners of the Boston Marathon to the Boston Athletic Association. In concert with this, the Committee creates additional targeted programming for educators and students, including democracy and civics lectures, visits to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Massachusetts State House tours, meetings with state legislators, and special curriculum units.
Finally, for the last several years, The Alpha Omega Council and The 26.2 Foundation have provided scholarships for participating Middle School teachers to attend The Examined Life’s Greece Online Graduate teaching program, including the study/travel trip to Greece, to help teachers develop the classical background and teaching skills needed to convey this important learning to students.
Our hope is that these initiatives and celebrations will help perpetuate the ideals that grew out of the original Marathon through to the present day Boston Marathon, and their meaning for America today.
To run the Wreath Ceremony and Educational efforts involves the volunteer time of many and a significant financial cost. Your contributions will help continue the tradition of the Wreath Ceremmony and help us expand our educational efforts to more communities.