Giving 2020 its due, Swanzey church hosts calendar-burning event on New Year’s Day

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In honor of 2021, the Swanzey Congregational Church hosted a 2020 calendar burning in its parking lot Friday afternoon. The event was accompanied by prayer and song for those who’ve lost their lives to the pandemic and those working on the front line. Photo/Olivia Belanger, Sentinel Staff

Story Produced by Keene Sentinel Source, a Member of

SWANZEY, NH — A normal New Year’s celebration might consist of fireworks, too much champagne and a kiss. But this year, after grappling with the hardships of 2020, the First Congregational Church of Swanzey had different plans.

“One of the woman [of our church] just happened to mention passing by one day, ‘Well we used to burn our calendars on a bad year,’ and we thought, ‘Oh, what a great idea!’ ” said member Sandy Allen of Swanzey. 

The church doesn’t typically host an event for the new year, Allen said, but with most services held virtually this year and limited time spent with the congregation, it made sense to host a safe, outdoor gathering.

The calendar burning, which anyone could attend, was held Friday at 3:30 p.m. in the church’s parking lot on Old Homestead Highway. Before attendees lit up their calendars, several people said prayers and sang in honor of those who’ve lost their lives to COVID-19, and those still working on the frontlines.

The 15 or so area residents then began to torch their calendars in a bonfire, with a celebratory bell rung after each one.

Allen suggested that, if they’d had a good month in 2020, participants rip that page out and not burn it. She encouraged people to tell the group the joy that month brought.

“I’m tearing September because our first grandson was born in September!” Cynthia Stinson, a Swanzey resident and church member, told the crowd.

“I took out November because one of our daughters came up, and we were able to celebrate Thanksgiving outside,” said Allen’s husband, Rick.

One participant, Pat Haselton of Swanzey, decided to throw in her whole calendar.

“I don’t care what happened!” she said, laughing.

Pat Haselton of Swanzey lights her 2020 calendar on fire Friday afternoon, as part of the Swanzey Congregational Church’s New Year’s Day celebration. Photo/Olivia Belanger, Sentinel Staff

Keene resident Rene Lamothe, 81, said he’s not a church member, but decided to attend because the event sounded “very appropriate.”

“2020 was a very disruptive year in a lot of ways, and with the hope of putting it all behind us, it sounded like a good ceremonial way to say goodbye once and for all,” he said.

After burning his calendar, Lamothe said he felt catharsis, and is looking forward to a better year ahead.

It was a similar feeling for retired U.S. Navy Rear Admiral David Stinson, Cynthia’s husband. 

Specifically, with the COVID-19 vaccinations beginning across the nation, he wants 2021 to bring an end to the pandemic.

“I’m hoping that this will be behind us by the summer,” he said.

And regardless of what 2021 brings, Sandy Allen said the church may do this again, calendar burning and all.

“Maybe now,” she said, “this is the beginning of a tradition.”

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