fb-pixel Skip to main content

It’s time to move on from this crazy year, and a ‘Good Riddance 2020’ event will help you do it

The organization is even curating a playlist to go along with the cathartic experience, using the hashtag #goodriddancemixtape.

The Cambridge Historical Society is hosting an event called "Good Riddance 2020".Lara Kimmerer/Cambridge Historical Society (Custom credit)

A global pandemic. “Murder hornets.” A bitter, nail-biting presidential election.

The list goes on.

There’s no shortage of evidence that 2020 has been, as they say, a complete dumpster fire, both collectively and for many, on a deeply personal level. Last week, Time magazine flatly declared it the “worst year ever.”

But with the new year approaching, the Cambridge Historical Society wants you to break free from 2020′s relentless negativity. It’s time to move on, shed the heavy emotional baggage we’ve carried for months, and finally look ahead to the future.


On Saturday, you can do just that during the nonprofit’s “Good Riddance 2020″ event at its Brattle Street headquarters. Attendees are invited to write down “the things you wish to leave behind from 2020,″ before dropping the note through a shredding machine, reducing your sadness and regrets to mere ribbons.

After watching their frustrations vanish, (or at least be sent to recycling), people can start anew, and jot down their “hopes, dreams, and wishes” for next year on a piece of seeded paper, which, after being planted, will eventually grow into wildflowers.

“It is truly a healing moment to write something down and shred it and see it go away,” said Marieke Van Damme, the society’s executive director. “But we also want to be optimistic, and we thought, ‘Well, how do we identify what good came out of this year, how do we identify hopes, encouragement, and optimism?’ ”

Every year the society picks a theme and creates programs around that concept from a historical perspective, tying it to the present day. This year was supposed to focus on the role women have played in shaping the city’s history, aligning with the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote.


But like many other organizations, the society was forced to shift gears and rethink its approach in light of the pandemic.

“We had this grand theme planned for the year, all these great programs talking about women,” Van Damme said. “And that’s all been changed.”

As the months ticked on during the pandemic, organizers discussed ways they could engage with the city’s residents. During one brainstorming session, the nonprofit’s small staff started going through all of the “terrible stuff that was happening,” Van Damme said, and “how bad news seemed to follow us all.”

An idea soon emerged: What if they got a dumpster, put it in the historical society’s driveway, and let people come by and throw notes in it before “literally setting it on fire?”

At first, the concept was somewhat of a joke. But then the group decided there might be something to it, once they figured out a safer method.

“We decided we didn’t really know anyone at the fire department, so we couldn’t really light the dumpster on fire,” Van Damme said. “That being logistically an issue we said, ‘You know what? We’re Cantabrigians, we’re environmentally friendly, let’s just shred that stuff and recycle it.’ ”

On the day of the event, people will wait in line outside of the historical society building for their turn to use the shredder. The building has a gate leading up to the front door, so organizers will be able to make sure everyone remains at a safe distance. The event is free and open to the public.


New York City’s Time Square Alliance is hosting a similar event this month, inspired by a Latin American tradition, according to the group’s website.

For those wary of venturing out, Van Damme has offered to do their shredding for them. People can e-mail the society their memories and regrets from 2020, and she will send them a video of her destroying the bad vibes, so they still get “that satisfaction of it going away.”

While the cathartic event celebrates the physical act of letting go and looking ahead, “Good Riddance 2020″ also has a digital aspect to it.

After taking home the seeded paper with their New Year hopes, participants are encouraged to use #seedingsofhope on social media to post pictures of their plants as they grow.

The historical society is also curating a Spotify playlist full of songs that best capture 2020, organizers said. People can offer suggestions for the playlist using #goodriddancemixtape.

“There’s nothing like a good mixtape to help process your emotions,” the society tweeted Tuesday.

While it may seem like a lighthearted approach to dealing with a year filled with loss and grief, Van Damme said the organization is by no means downplaying people’s very real experiences. Instead, they see the event as a genuine opportunity to “heal as a community,” she said.

“I think showing a community coming together and overcoming difficulty in the spirit of resiliency, I think there’s something lovely about that,” she said.


Steve Annear can be reached at steve.annear@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @steveannear.