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Return Day Delaware in the United States

Return Day is a traditional festival for the state of Delaware that is held on the Thursday after Election Day in November. It can fall on or around November 4 every other year to celebrate the announcement of the election results in Georgetown, Delaware.

Is Return Day Delaware a Public Holiday?

Return Day Delaware is a public holiday in Delaware, where it is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

polling place with a Vote Here sign

Many people traveled to cast their vote at the polling station in Geoergetown, Delaware for the election and then returned two days later to hear the results.

©iStockphoto.com/jkbowers

What Do People Do?

Many people travel to Georgetown, Delaware for the celebration of Return Day. The festivities start with a concert and a traditional free ox roast in the town circle. The festival events include food vendors, competitions, musical entertainment, arts and crafts, and a parade of the winning and losing candidates from both parties.

The candidates ride in horse pulled carriages or antique cars around the town circle, followed by the ceremonial “bury the hatchet” – where the Sussex County chairmen of the Democratic and Republican parties meet on stage, clutch the hatchet and together plunge it into a box of sand from Lewes – that signifies the end of the competition. The town crier reads the results of the statewide and Sussex County elections during the ceremony, and afterward all attendees receive a free roast beef sandwich.

Public Life

Return Day is not a federal holiday but is considered a state holiday in Delaware. Schools and government offices shut down for the afternoon. Most downtown streets in Georgetown will be closed, but some roads will reopen on a phased-in basis after the Return Day parade has ended.

Background

In 1791, the Delaware Legislature required all votes to be casted on Election Day at the new County Seat in Georgetown, Delaware. Thus, all Sussex County residents had to travel to Georgetown in order to vote on Election Day, and then return two days later to hear the results – hence the name Return Day. The winners of that year's political races would parade around the town circle in horse pulled carriages, and then the losers and the chairs of the county's political parties would perform the ceremonially "bury the hatchet" into a tub of sand.

In 1811, voting districts were created across the state, but the Board of Canvassers would still meet two days later in Georgetown to announce the final election results. Although television and the internet have eliminated the need for Return Day, the tradition is a time for Delaware residents to join together for a day of fun and a touch of nostalgia. Return Day is recognized as the only event of its kind in the nation.

Symbols

The ceremonial “burial of the hatchet” symbolizes the official end of Delaware’s political season and a return to civility within Delaware politics. The sand is brought from Lewes, which is the site of the original county seat. The “hatchet” is a single-handed striking tool (axe) with a sharp blade and is also referred to as a tomahawk.

Return Day Delaware Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010ThuNov 4Return Day DelawareState holidayDelaware*
2012ThuNov 8Return Day DelawareState holidayDelaware*
2014ThuNov 6Return Day DelawareState holidayDelaware*
2016ThuNov 10Return Day DelawareState holidayDelaware*
2018ThuNov 8Return Day DelawareState holidayDelaware*
2020ThuNov 5Return Day DelawareState holidayDelaware*
* Only some parts of Delaware observe this holiday.

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