Return Day will mark its 200th anniversary on Thursday.
Steeped in tradition, the event features dozens of candidates, both winners and losers, riding together in horse-drawn carriages and antique cars through downtown Georgetown before officials from each party ceremonially – but literally –
bury the hatchet in a box of sand from Lewes, the originally seat of Sussex County.
Thousands of visitors are also expected to enjoy the parades, ox roast, the reading of the election returns, contents, entertainment, vendors and parties all over the town for which Return Day has come to be known.
Here are three things you need to know about this year’s Return Day:
1 It’s not the 200th Return Day
Although this year is being celebrated as the 200th anniversary of Return Day in Georgetown, the event is widely believed to have originated even earlier.
Some think the event began in Lewes, the original seat of Sussex County, although little historical record of the events beginnings can be found today.
Georgetown became the county seat in 1792 and it was there that voters had to travel to cast their ballots on Election Day. By 1812, it had become common practice for those same voters to return two days later to hear the results – the returns for which the day is named.
While 100 elections have been held since then, fewer Return Days have been celebrated.
Return Day was put on hold due to World War II from 1942 to 1952, but it’s been going strong ever since.
2 The fun isn’t just on Thursday.
While Return Day is always held the first Thursday after the election, the celebration actually begins Wednesday and has been known to carry over into the weekend.
This year, the traditional ox roast will begin at noon on Wednesday so free open pit barbequed beef sandwiches are ready for the crowd by 4:30 p.m. on Thursday.
Some visitors will start showing up by Wednesday afternoon and several local bands will provide entertainment for the early arrivals. Skinny Leg Pete Band is set to take the stage at 5 p.m., followed by Big Hat No Cattle and headliners The Funsters.
The full Return Day celebration kicks off early Thursday with dozens of vendors lining The Circle, and additional bands providing entertainment.
The Mayor’s Hatchet Toss, featuring a hatchet-throwing competition among Sussex County’s mayors will be held outside the Old Courthouse on South Bedford Street at 11 a.m., followed by the Return Day parade, which kicks off at Sussex Central High School at 1:30 p.m.
The official ceremonies begin at 3:45 p.m. and culminate with Town Crier and former Georgetown mayor Layton Johnson’s reading of the returns, followed by the ox roast feast.
3 Return Day is rain or shine
The last two Return Days were plagued by chilly weather, rain and wind, and it’s looking like this year might be more of the same.
A weakening Nor’easter off the Atlantic Coast is expected to arrive late Wednesday and stay into Thursday, bringing with it more wet weather – and possibly even snow in some areas – just a week after Hurricane Sandy.
Return Day will continue regardless, although foul weather could impact many of the outdoor events scheduled for Wednesday evening and all day Thursday.