After Elections in Delaware, Politicians Literally Bury Hatchets

iStock / alexxx1981
iStock / alexxx1981 / iStock / alexxx1981

As the election season kicks into gear and all that negative rhetoric hits the airwaves, it's worth remembering that politics isn't always so nasty. And no place is that more clear than in one Delaware town, where politicians mark the end of campaigning by literally burying the hatchet.

It's part of the area's regular Return Day celebration, an event held two days after Election Day every two years. The festival started sometime in the late 1700s (it's unclear exactly when) for citizens to gather to learn the outcome of state and national elections. Now it's just an opportunity to hold a festival in the city of Georgetown, complete with a carriage parade and ox roast.

Georgetown — the county seat of Delaware's Sussex County — was originally the site where voters would gather to cast their ballots. Thus it provided the natural place for an event two days later when the town crier would read out the election results. Despite plenty of reasons that the Return Day gathering doesn't need to happen anymore — you know, like having separate voting districts or the Internet — the tradition has held, with the town crier and all.

One of the most interesting parts of the festival, however, is the air-clearing tradition of burying a ceremonial hatchet. Based on the Native American tradition of burying a hatchet to denote peace, the chairmen of the local Republican and Democratic parties will appear together on stage and submerge a hatchet into a box of sand. Some candidates have participated in the ceremony as well — in the 2010 festival, Senate candidates Christine O'Donnell and Chris Coons (the victor) joined together to bury the hatchet after a particularly tough race that ousted incumbent Rep. Michael Castle.

The event is preceded by a parade of horse-drawn carriages and antique automobiles, featuring local dignitaries and recent candidates (Vice President and Delaware native Joe Biden


made more than a few appearances). And following the hatchet-burying and announcement of the results, Delaware tradition holds that Return Day attendees get an ox roast sandwich off of an open-pit barbecue, although historians say that previous festivals served up rabbit and opossum meat as well.