Commentary: Happy (belated) Return Day
Delaware, with its unique makeup of only three counties, none of which are like the others, has its fair share of political turmoil. From the generally conservative Sussex, the middle-of-the-road Kent, to the liberal Philly suburb that is New Castle, I know of no other place with more opportunity for political discord, feelings of powerlessness, or just plain sour grapes. And that’s precisely why they have Return Day.
Originally started in 1791 as a day for the public to hear the final vote tally of the election held two days before, this state holiday observed primarily in Sussex County has become a festival devoted to accepting the electoral outcome. It is a time set aside for laying down anger, curtailing the boasting that inevitably follows a win, and moving forward as one people. The hallmark of the festivities is the ceremonial “burying of the hatchet” whereby a tomahawk (a shout-out to Delaware’s proud American Indian heritage) is jointly thrust into a pile of sand from the nations’ oldest continual town, Lewes, Delaware, by representiaves of the Sussex Republican and Democratic parties. This act brings an official end to not only the electoral season, but also to the winners’ boasting and the losers’ pouting. Once the hatchet is buried, they symbolically return to their previous state of being: simply fellow Delawarians.
Every election is hard and has a propensity to cause division. But the vitriol present for the past year plus has been far greater than at any point in modern American history. Candidates from both sides have done and said things that have called into question their suitability for the greatest office in the land. As you awoke on Wednesday to the diametrically opposed shouts of “Make America Great Again” and “I’m Moving to Canada,” the day’s social media activity was largely devoted to winners rejoicing and losers lamenting. Much like the day after your team’s big game, we have a human need to celebrate victories and mourn our losses. But as Delaware aptly teaches, one day is enough. On Thursday, it’s time to return to what we hold in common and recommit ourselves to advancing into this new season with integrity and intentionality.
So to the victors, stop gloating and start praying that all the potential you saw in your candidate will actually come to pass. And to the vanquished, dry your tears, put down your banners, and for the sake of the country, pray you were wrong and that the best candidate won.
Happy Return Day!
Dr. Matthew Pandel was born and raised in Delaware but has resided in the Shenandoah Valley for the past 17 years. He is a psychologist and educator living in Woodstock.