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The Quirky Way This Port Town Celebrates the Arrival of Spring Is Actually Amazing

Coastal Living logo Coastal Living 3/21/2019 Marisa Spyker
a large body of water with a city in the background: The Naval Academy Dome and the Maryland Statehouse buildings show up centered in the Annapolis Skyline © Provided by TIME Inc. The Naval Academy Dome and the Maryland Statehouse buildings show up centered in the Annapolis Skyline For most of the country, the first hint of springtime brings out a host of welcome warm-weather traditions. Some might take their lunches alfresco or pop open a bottle of rosé at happy hour. Others might dust off their patio furniture or swap the sweaters in their closets for sundresses. 

But if you’re a resident of Annapolis, Maryland, where the arrival of spring also signals the start of the harbor town’s beloved boating season, you say sayonara to snowy days by ditching your socks (for good).

Every March on the Spring Equinox, Annapolitans gather to participate in an unusual ritual that invites locals to ring in sailing season by kicking their old socks off and tossing them into a waterfront bonfire. The event, now four decades running, has turned into one of the most celebrated annual events for the charming bayfront town.

a group of people sitting around a fire: Courtesy of Visit Annapolis © Courtesy of Visit Annapolis Courtesy of Visit Annapolis

As the story goes, the tradition started in the late ‘70s after a particularly snowy winter. Local boatbuilder Bob Turner had had enough of the chill and, especially, of his socks. So, he invited a few fellow watermen over and together they cracked some beers and set their socks ablaze in an old paint rolling pan. In the years following, they repeated the tradition, until eventually word got out about the amusing event following a 2004 New York Times story and the ritual spread to port towns from New England to Texas. 

Today, Annapolis’ original Sock Burning is a full-blown festival that combines the beloved tradition with a celebration of one of the region’s greatest delicacies—oysters. During the event, held this year on March 23 at the Annapolis Maritime Museum, attendees are able to chow down on raw and roasted oysters, enter a shucking contest, and learn about the shellfish’s importance to the health of the Chesapeake Bay. And, of course, they’re able to do all this with their feet blissfully in the sand and the breeze on their toes.

While Turner, the original sock burner who’s since relocated south where socks are even less of a priority, is no longer a regular at the Annapolis event, he said in a 2015 interview with Baltimore Magazine he’s amazed at how the tradition has caught on. "It was never meant to be taken seriously," he says. "It just says, 'Enough with the socks! Time to go sailing!'"

Now that's a sentiment that we're fully on board with. Learn more about the annual festival here.

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