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The year just ended was supposed to be a time of celebrations, parades and historical commemorations to mark Maine’s 200 years as a state. Like so many other things in 2020, however, Maine’s Bicentennial did not go as planned. In fact, it didn’t really go at all.
The state commission created to plan and carry out the festivities decided months ago to tentatively postpone a slate of bicentennial activities until later in 2021. That was obviously the right call. You don’t even have to go back a full 200 years — just one century to the 1918 flu — for a reminder from history that parades and pandemics don’t mix with good results.
“While we are disappointed that we are unable to commemorate Maine’s bicentennial this year as planned, we are also excited about coming together in 2021 to celebrate not only 201 years of statehood, but our renewed sense of community and perseverance as we emerge from this trial,” state Sen. Bill Diamond, a Democrat from Windham who chairs the commission, said in a press release this week. “We look forward to celebrating and reflecting on the State of Maine when we can all do so safely and joyfully next year.”
Maine’s history isn’t exactly going anywhere, so while 201 years doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, the delay wouldn’t seem to have much of a functional impact. The future may be less certain these days, but it’s mostly the same history to celebrate, scrutinize and learn from — with an additional and disruptive year tacked on to the end.
On the other side of 2020, which at times felt 200 years long on its own, there’s at least one obvious comparison with the year Maine became a state. For instance, for very different reasons, both 1820 and 2020 were years of change.
“In 1820, Maine presents an interesting picture. It is a good period of which to make a sketch, for the state was entering upon the new and leaving the old behind,” a University of Maine masters student wrote in his 1931 thesis, “Cross Section of Maine History at the Time of the Separation from Massachusetts.”
While Maine permanently set off on a new path with statehood in 1820, hopefully many of the changes of 2020 will prove temporary. When the bicentennial commission holds a ceremony to seal a time capsule, tentatively scheduled for the fall, we’d love to fill it with masks, signs about social distancing, and maybe even a never-ending Zoom meeting — if only so we don’t have to see those things for a while. But for now, as the pandemic intensifies and critical work continues to make, distribute and administer vaccinations, those necessary inconveniences aren’t going anywhere.
Between now and the fall, the bicentennial commission will have to figure out how to bottle up all the good deeds and togetherness that Maine people have demonstrated this past year, and put those in the time capsule. That’s one aspect of 2020 we hope has staying power.
The COVID-19 pandemic has taken a lot, but it has also given perspective about what is really important. Compared to the lives and livelihoods lost, the delay of bicentennial programming is a very small thing.
Even with those harsh realities, the state can still enjoy its milestone, particularly after a post-vaccine stabilization. If nothing else, the bicentennial offers a reminder that for many of us, things could be worse. After all, Maine could still be part of Massachusetts.