Southern Delaware is known for many things, from its tranquil beauty, to it’s more than two-dozen miles of beautiful Atlantic coastline, to it’s low tax rates and slow placed way of life.
But it’s also known throughout the region for a plethora of fun and family-friendly local events. Next weekend, Georgetown is hosting one of those highly anticipated annual happenings, but believe us when we say that this one's not for the entire family.
That's right - it’s nearly time once again for that beer drinking, seafood slurping, male bonding ritual known as the annual Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department Oyster Eat.
Now if you’re a man in Sussex County, especially if you’re a native, then you probably already know what we’re talking about. And if you’re not, well pull up a chair and let us tell you all about it.
Let's start with this video from the Cape Gazette, chronicling the 2013 Oyster Eat.
Looks pretty awesome, right? Well, you'd be hard pressed to find a man who's been who didn't admit to having one hell of a good time on the last Friday night in February.
There’s truly nothing else like the Oyster Eat in the state of Delaware, and it’s very much looked forward to each and every year here in Sussex County. Men from all over the state descend on the Georgetown Fire Department, sometimes waiting outside in the cold for hours on personal missions to get the most coveted spots inside.
Oh, and when we say men, we do mean men. In keeping with local tradition, this has always been a stag event, and organizers hope to keep it that way. It's a chance for male bonding, in a historical and custom-preserving way here in southern Delaware.
It’s not that women aren’t allowed, but they're “encouraged” not to attend. But not to worry, women created their own event years ago on the same night as the Oyster Eat. More on that later…
But first, let's take a look at the Oyster Eat and it's unique place in Sussex County lore.
Delmarva Life/WBOC Photo
Begun in the 1930s as a gathering for local firemen, the Oyster Eat has evolved into a major social event in Sussex County and is the main annual fundraiser for the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department. That's right, it's an incredibly good time AND it's for a great cause.
It’s also become a “must attend” event for politicians from throughout the First State over the years, with U.S. congressmen and senators, governors, state legislators and more joining in on the fun.
The Oyster Eat has gone on every year uninterrupted since 1949, and it’s essentially never changed. Why mess with something that already works so well, right?
On the day of the Oyster Eat, the men of the fire department take the fire trucks and other vehicles out of the fire hall and replace them with a four-inch thick layer of sawdust, which makes it easier to clean up the huge mess at the end of the evening.
Fathers will come with sons, brothers with brothers, grandfathers with grandsons. In what has become a rite of passage for many Sussex County families, they’ll come from all over the county just to socialize and catch up with one another.
News Journal Photo
It’s an event that is uniquely Sussex County, and the men religiously hold on to their traditions. The Oyster Eat is not meant to change; it’s meant simply to endure the same as it always has.
A big part of that is keeping it a men’s only event, which organizers say has never really been all that difficult to do. It’s not that women would be turned away, but it’s doubtful they would have a good time within the confines of the Georgetown Fire Hall, at least for this one night a year.
And truth be told, local women have never really expressed an interest in being a part of the Oyster Eat. I mean who wants to be the only woman in a crowd of drunken men listening to country music and slurping oysters all night, right?
Delmarva Life/WBOC Photo
But they also didn’t want to miss out on all the fun, so they began an event of their own. Several years ago, a group of ladies pledged not to fight the men but to instead create a function just for themselves.
And so they did, on the very same night as the Oyster Eat. It’s women only and it’s not an Oyster Eat at all ― but in sticking with the coastal Delaware theme, the ladies did decide on a menu dominated by seafood.
The Shrimp Feast, held annually in Lewes, is largely on the same scale and theme as the Oyster Eat. But instead of men, it’s women; instead of oysters, it’s shrimp; instead of bluegrass music, it’s disco music; instead of beer, it’s wine.
But it’s still a wild and crazy type of party that’s looked forward to year after year. There’s even a bit of a friendly competition between the genders, with each side attempting to sell the most tickets.
But there's but one Oyster Eat, and that remains for the men of southern Delaware. It’s a special tradition to hundreds of Sussex County men and is passed down from generation to generation.
The Oyster Eat has been featured on national television and other media outlets and has been honored as a Library of Congress Local Legacy event for its historical and cultural significance to Sussex County.
Cape Gazette Photo
It’s held every year on the last Friday in February, with this year’s event scheduled for next Friday, Feb. 24.
But if you plan on going and you want one of the prime spots, get there early. The event is extremely well attended and you may be relegated to one of the secondary positions if you’re not there when the doors open.
You can contact the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Department at 302-856-7700 for more information, or you can purchase tickets at www.georgetown77.com.
They sell for $27 in advance or $30 at the door.