Unitarian Universalists invite public to celebrate arrival of spring with sock burning

CHESTERTOWN — There will be many ways residents of Kent and Queen Anne’s counties celebrate the arrival of spring later this month, including the Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River again following a maritime tradition native to the Chesapeake region — burning their socks.

The ritual honors the annual spring equinox, the day when the tilt of the Earth aligns so that the hours of daylight and nighttime are almost equal over the entire globe.

The equinox signals the official start of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere.

“The equinox has been celebrated by humans throughout time, well before written history. We have always been in awe of the mystery of natural forces,” M.Q. Riding, president of the board of trustees of Unitarian Universalists of the Chester River (UUCR), said in a news release.

The UUCR are sponsors of the outdoor gathering the evening of Friday, March 22.

In many areas of the mid-Atlantic region, March weather gives folks bouts of spring fever, a restless urge to break loose from the constraints of winter.

According to the Annapolis Maritime Museum & Park, sailors seem to get the worst cases. That organization, along with social media, are credited with turning a simple party begun by one Annapolis boat worker into a yearly celebration repeated by groups in different fashions across and beyond the Chesapeake.

A surprise for many is the recent date of March 1977 for the inception of sock burning.

The AMM says that Dick Turner, captain of the Annapolis Boat Yard, had had enough of the uniquely cold and snowy Maryland winter of 1976-77.

Winter is when boats are maintained and repaired, not often in ideal conditions.

Temperatures that winter remained largely below freezing for 58 straight days, with zero readings on some mornings.

The UUCR’s John Ramsey, co-host of the local event, remembered, “There were ice mountains stacked up along the shore of the Bay, after the ice breaker ships had opened the channel. Then the wind blew the huge chunks over here on the eastern side.”

So boat worker Turner decided as he left work on the official spring start in March 1977 to burn his worn and paint-spattered socks, invited colleagues nearby to join him, and vowed not to wear socks again until the boating season was over.

The first incineration apparently took place in a metal paint pan.

The no-socks rule is pretty standard anyway among boaters, according to the AMM.

Plentiful supplies of food and alcoholic beverages accompany the sock bonfire held annually by the Annapolis museum.

As of March 4, the AMM website said its event, with adult tickets starting at $50, was sold out.

Several area yacht clubs and marinas also host sock parties.

After at least a 15-year history of equinox events, the local Unitarian Universalist congregation has opened its simpler and free celebration to the community for the first time this year. Members will use a brief ceremony composed by then-members Carl Gallegos and the late Dick Hawkins. Visitors can follow along with handouts, participating at points they choose.

As a multi-faith group, the Unitarian Universalist congregation uses quotations from a wide variety of sources, including poets, for this event.

Attendance is typically about 15.

Midway into the approximate 20-minute program, participants will have a chance to add their socks to the flames of a fire pit.

Ramsey said since synthetic socks cause an acrid odor, they are not permitted. Only socks of all-natural fabrics like wool and cotton may be burnt.

Longtime UUCR sock ceremony participant Kim Agee said she and a few others remove the socks they are wearing and burn them for that authentic feeling of spring-summer freedom.

But the sock details are not the main point for Agee, who teaches science at Queen Anne’s County High School.

“It’s just wonderful being in a group with such camaraderie. Sitting there on a cool evening in the lovely woods and feeling grateful,” Agee said in the news release. “The natural world is such a gift.”

The event will begin at 5:30 p.m Friday, March 22 at the church, located at 914 Gateway Drive in the Crestview development north of downtown Chestertown.

Any related posts will be listed here:

Skip to content