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Stellpflug column: Burning socks just one more spring ritual to add to the list

Many rituals throughout history include fire in the form of bonfires, candles and fireworks. Some are more familiar than others.

Bra burning was the standard-bearer for the women’s movement. It represented being free from bondage. It was a symbolic representation of not being bound by traditional roles. Burning bras was a brief but lasting image of a rebellious time for women.

Why men didn’t follow suit and quickly create a tie burning ritual is beyond me. Those neck chokers seem uncomfortable and it seems they get into soup and spaghetti sauce with regularity. I understand the finished look of being dressed up, and the need for a sure-fire Father’s Day gift, but seriously, bondage is bondage.

Another kind of burning ritual takes place in Annapolis, Maryland, and this year the date has been set for March 24. It is the annual Oyster Roast and Sock Burning. Yes, you read that right. The story is that one particularly snowy winter in 1978, Bob Tuner invited his friends to celebrate the end of winter by gathering and burning their socks. Although the headline for this was “only in Maryland,” the ritual has caught fire all over the country from the Pacific Northwest to even some landlocked areas of Pennsylvania.

In Georgetown, South Carolina, the sailors celebrated the coming of spring by burning socks worn all winter long. I guess the sailors, boatbuilders and dockworkers go sockless until the following winter. Kicking off canoe season in Williamsburg, Virginia, they have a bonfire of socks as well.

One would think this all dates back to the 1700 or 1800s, and Tuner just rekindled an idea, but apparently 1978 is the first record of such a ritual that caught on for the fun of it.

There are other spring rituals we don’t always hear about in the Midwest, but when we do, we join in the fun. There are sock burning festivals in Sturgeon Bay and they have burnings at the Roxbury Tavern outside Sauk City. All to celebrate freeing feet from the bondage of thick socks.

We had a fire one winter’s eve. We did it at my in-laws’ house, throwing fire permits to the wind. We needed to burn things. One brother needed to burn his chemo treatment charts, one sister-in-law needed to burn her maternity pantyhose. Another sister tossed onto the fire all the inappropriate notes given to her by a less-than-adequate babysitter. We all had things to let loose into the universe and a celebration of cleansing by fire came naturally.

Sock burning has never been on my priority list of spring rituals, but I see the potential. I might want to add it to my docket of routines as summer approaches. Letting feet go naked and lighting our socks for the equinox sounds a lot more fun than spring cleaning.

It also is a lot less complicated than drinking dandelion and burdock cordials to cleanse the blood while chanting and playing music. (That takes place March 20 at Stonehenge this year if you are interested.)

Everybody loves a celebration and welcoming a spring thaw is worthy of taking note. The breaking up of iced-over lakes and above-freezing temperatures seems reason enough. Some places explode snowmen to end winter, others decorate and hide eggs.

Burning socks is all fine and dandy, unless you live in Wisconsin. Here the ticks are plentiful and the nights can get down into the 30s well past when others might call it summer. We might hang onto those socks a bit longer. The truth is, we in Wisconsin are from a more frugal heritage. Most of us would just wash them and put them back in the drawer; the top of the drawer at that. Is that so wrong?

Kay Stellpflug is an educator and trainer in interpersonal and professional communications. She works and lives in Beaver Dam and can be reached at [email protected].

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