Return Day a unique Sussex County tradition


As time-honored Delaware traditions go, Return Day may be the most unique of them all.

“The reason why it’s called ‘Return Day’ is, back in the older days, they didn’t have the miracles of radio, TV and all this modern technology,” explained Rosalie Walls, president of the event’s organizing committee. “People had to come to the county seat by ox cart and horse-drawn carriage,” she said of the effort needed to hear the election results in those days.

The date of the first Return Day held in Georgetown is unknown; however, Walls said it may have been as early as 1792.

According to the Return Day website, “The state law in 1791 removing the county seat from Lewes along the coast to the a more geographically centered site, later named Georgetown, required all votes to be cast in the new county seat on Election Day.

“The same voters would ‘return’ two days later to hear the results — hence the name Return Day. In 1811, voting districts in the individual hundreds were established, but the Board of Canvassers, presided over by the Sheriff, would still meet two days later in Georgetown to announce the final tally.”

This year, Return Day will be held on Thursday, Nov. 6, in downtown Georgetown beginning at 9 a.m. That day, there will be numerous festivities throughout the morning and afternoon, including a parade and the ceremonial but entirely literal “burying of the hatchet” — a long-running Return Day tradition symbolizing the resolution of the election’s political rivalry.

The Wednesday evening prior to the event, from 5 to 11 p.m. on The Circle, there will be entertainment, kicking off with the Skinny Leg Pete Band, followed by Big Hat No Cattle and closing with The Funsters. During that time, officials will be roasting an ox, to prepare for Thursday’s free ox sandwiches.

Along with the entertainment provided on both days, there will be a cupcake contest, cornhole tournament and more.

“There are so many aspects to Return Day. It’s not just an ox roast. It’s not just burying the hatchet, and it’s not just a parade. We try to do something that appeals to all age groups.”

This year, Walls said, members of the military will be honored for their service to the country.

“This year, I have really tried to focus on the military. I think we owe them so much — both men and women — for laying their lives on the line every day so we can have the freedom to celebrate such a unique tradition,” she said.

During her decades of involvement with Return Day, Walls has enlisted the help of her family and many friends. Currently, all three of her sons help her manage different aspects of the event.

“All of my sons have been working on Return Day ever since they were teenagers. I’m trying to get my whole family involved,” she said with a laugh. “We’re all volunteers — no one gets paid. We couldn’t do it without everybody pulling as a team.”

Walls said she hopes for beautiful weather for Wednesday and Thursday, and that many people in Sussex County return to Georgetown to hear the returns.

“We’re the only people in the country that have something like this, as far as we know. I just hope we can keep this beautiful weather we’re having. I want it to keep going on so much. I don’t want this unique tradition to end,” she said.

The complete Thursday schedule will be posted online, along with a complete list of the ceremonies, which will happen on the Circle. For more information on Return Day, visit www.returnday.com or www.facebook.com/screturnday.