Return Day tradition helps politicians put aside ill will

GEORGETOWN — In Sussex County today party leaders will symbolically do what President-elect Donald Trump and runner-up Hillary Clinton offered in speeches Wednesday.

It’s time to bury the hatchet.

For more than 200 years, Return Day has been a post-election tradition in Sussex County.

After the parade in which Delaware’s winners and losers ride together in carriages and cars, a town crier will read the results and the county’s party chairmen will cover a hatchet in a box full of Lewes sand.

“I think it’s always an important part of our ceremonies,” said Debbie Jones, president of Sussex County’s Return Day. “It’s symbolic of ‘let’s bury the ill will, hard feelings and campaign tactics and start anew.’”

Return Day President Debbie Jones holds the hatchet that will be buried on Thursday at the Circle in Georgetown. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Return Day President Debbie Jones holds the hatchet that will be buried on Thursday at the Circle in Georgetown. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

The sand from Lewes ties back to  when the town was the original county seat.

Return Day has been held in Georgetown since at least 1812.

Nowhere else in the country does anything like this take place.

“It is something that is uniquely Sussex County,” said Billy Carroll, chair of the Sussex County Republican party. “There are kids who live here their whole life and they think Return Day is something that town’s do all over the nation — but nope, this is uniquely Sussex County.”

Mitch Crane, Sussex County Democratic chairman, admitted that Return Day can be a challenge.

“It’s a nice ceremony and it’s good to get it done,” Mr. Crane said. “But honestly, it isn’t a pleasant experience when most of the people you worked for lost.

“There’s still a lot of bitterness with some people. There have been some people who have refused to ride in the carriage with their opponent, even some who won, but most of them get along fairly well. It’s a nice tradition.”

Town Crier Kirk Lawson will be reading the results from Sussex County Courthouse balcony.

This year, the Sussex County vote for President-elect Trump will mirror the national outcome.

Mr. Carroll was impressed by President-elect Trump’s victory speech that took place at around 3 a.m. Wednesday.

“I liked it, I really did,” he said. “I thought it was the beginning of a president. It did sound a lot different than he has sounded and he has to be a lot more scripted from now on because he’s the leader of our country. He can’t afford to be reality TV person anymore.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Crane was impressed with how Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton handled herself in defeat.

“I thought she gave a great speech and she said what she had to say,” he said. “You could tell it was difficult for her — and her supporters, too.”

Sussex County Sheriff Robert Lee will escort the hatchet to the main stage on The Circle in Georgetown as part of the parade.

In years’ past, the hatchet was placed inside a horse-drawn hearse.

Since that’s not available now, the Return Day Committee will employ a motorized stage coach.

When it arrives at the stage, Sheriff Lee will present it to the attendant.

During today’s ceremony, Sussex County party chairmen Mr. Carroll, Mr. Crane, Don Ayotte (Independent Party of Delaware) and James Brittingham (Libertarian) will each place a hand on the hatchet before it is covered in sand.

Somehow, the hatchet always resurfaces.

“It’s funny how that happens — especially when the box is locked in our office for two years,” joked Ms. Jones.

Reach editor Andrew West at awest@newszap.com

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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