A Post-Election Celebration: Return Day in Georgetown, Delaware

A Post-Election Celebration: Return Day in Georgetown, Delaware

The tiny town of Georgetown, Delaware (population 6000) has a special holiday every election year called Return Day. In many ways, it’s a holiday the whole nation could learn from.

What is Return Day?

Dating back as far as perhaps 1792, Return Day came about after a law moved the Sussex County Delaware seat from the coastal town of Lewes to a more geographically centered site, Georgetown. That same law required all citizens to cast their votes in Georgetown on election day. Two days later, voters  could return to Georgetown to hear the official results of the election.

Voting districts were established in 1811, eliminating the need for a central polling & results location. And today’s technology enables us to know who won within hours of the polls closing. However, the tradition of meeting two days later in Georgetown to announce the final vote tally has continued for over 200 years. It has even achieved the status of state holiday, with government offices in the county closing for the afternoon.

Return Day is celebrated every election year in Georgetown, Delaware.

What Happens on Return Day?

The festivities start with a concert and a traditional free ox roast in the town circle. Like most local festivals, Return Day features food vendors, competitions, musical entertainment, arts and crafts, and  so on.

The candidates – winners and losers from both parties – ride in horse drawn carriages or antique cars in a parade through town and around the town circle.

Former Vice President Joe Biden has participated in Delaware's Return Day tradition more than once.
Former Vice President (and Delaware Senator) Joe Biden has participated in the Return Day celebration more than once.

As the parade draws to and end, the ceremonies open with the national anthem, followed by an invocation and opening remarks by the mayor of Georgetown. Then – can you believe it? – a town crier reads the election results.

On Return Day in Georgetown, Delaware, the town crier reads the results of the elections.

The chairmen of the political parties (Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, and Independent) in Sussex County then partake in a ceremonial burying the hatchet. They meet on stage, clutch a hatchet and together plunge it into a box of sand. Even the sand has symbolic significance, as it’s from the original county seat of Lewes. When party leaders bury the hatchet, that signifies the end of the political competition.

Following the ceremony, all attendees receive a free open pit roast beef sandwich. Another tradition for Return Day is the ox roast and, well, if you’re going to roast an ox, you might as well share it with your neighbors.

Why Talk About Return Day?

In a political environment that seems to get nastier and more divisive each year, there’s a lot we can learn from this little town in Delaware. On Return Day, political opponents come together and symbolically bury the hatchet, signifying the end of their competition, no matter how antagonistic it may have gotten. Additionally, the election is officially declared as finished business.

What’s the bigger message here? Once the election is over, it’s over. Let’s put the nastiness behind us, roll up our collective sleeves, and get to work at fixing the problems that face us.

The next Return Day will be held in Georgetown on November 5, 2020.

Return Day - a unique post-election celebration in Georgetown Delaware.
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Return Day - a unique post-election celebration in Georgetown, Delaware
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Return Day - a unique post-election celebration in Georgetown, Delaware
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The small town of Georgetown, Delaware has a unique way of celebrating election day. It involves a roast ox, a hatchet, and a town crier.
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Travel As Much
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