AIKEN, S.C (WJBF)- A century-old tradition made a comeback on Thursday in Aiken with 109th Blessing of the Hounds.

A Thanksgiving Day tradition welcomed back spectators this year for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s wonderful to be back here. This is sacred turf. The last couple – during COVID, well, we didn’t do it at all one year, and then the last two years we did it at another location to discourage people from coming down. It was all COVID-related. But, now, we’re just so thrilled to be back,” said Linda McLean, Vice Chairman of the Hitchcock Woods Foundation.

The Blessing of the Hounds in Aiken was on full display Thanksgiving morning at Memorial Gate in Hitchcock Woods with a large crowd hiking through the woods before 9 a.m. to see the ceremonial event.

This year marked the 109th season that the Aiken hounds have had their blessing at Memorial Gate.

“It’s a very, very long tradition, and it’s awarded for service for the hunt. If you’ve been with the hunt for a while and helped considerably and participated, then you’re warded your colors – which is actually the medal and your collar,” explained Carla Igoe, a past participant and Aiken County resident.

A local clergy member officiates the event and provides the blessing each year.

Aiken Hounds is distinguished as having the oldest drag hunt in the Nation. In a “drag hunt,” a cloth with fox scent on it is dragged across the terrain to create a trail for the hounds to follow.

The annual ceremony pays homage to the various traditions of foxhunting, to the heritage of Aiken`s historic hunt culture, and to the skilled hounds that make the sport exciting to participates and spectators alike.

Photojournalist: Will Baker.