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2016 Got You Down? Trash All Your Woes on Good Riddance Day

Inspired by a Latin American tradition, Good Riddance Day is one way to say goodbye to this year’s bad memories

A woman smashes her laptop at Good Riddance Day in 2015 (Times Square New Year’s Eve)
smithsonian.com

By many measures, 2016 has been a rough year. Political turmoil is sweeping the world, the ongoing refugee crisis shows no end in sight, and a small army of the world’s most influential and respected artists have, in the words of William Shakespeare, "shuffle[d] off this mortal coil." But with the New Year just around the corner, some people are finding comfort today by celebrating Good Riddance Day.

For the last 10 years, during the lead up to New Year’s Eve people in New York City have gathered in Times Square to say good bye and good riddance to the bad memories of the previous year, Maya Rajamani reports for DNA Info. But while Good Riddance Day may have been invented by the Times Square Alliance back in 2007, it has a deeper history than just a gimmicky holiday dreamed up for hard times.

"Good Riddance Day was inspired by a Latin American tradition in which New Year’s revelers put artifacts or bad memories from the previous year into dolls and set them on fire," Times Square Alliance president Tim Tompkins says in a statement. "Here in Times Square, we might not be starting a bonfire, but we do encourage all New Yorkers and visitors alike to join us in the shredding of forgettable memories from this year."

Known as “Burning the Muñeco,” the tradition is celebrated by revelers in places like Panama and Ecuador, and those taking part build dolls and effigies of their least favorite people and parts of the last year before setting them ablaze, Melanie Dostis writes for the New York Daily News.

As cathartic as the practice may be, in recent years there's been a push to shift New Year’s celebrations away from the fiery. Last year, Peru’s senior environmental official released warnings against burning effigies, citing health and environmental risks that come along with the tradition, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported at the time.

"A person who is exposed to [smoke from the fires] and inhales them ends up with cancer in the medium or long term," Elmer Quichiz, a senior environmental official at the health ministry, told the Andina news agency, the AFP reported.

Of course, open fires aren’t the only potentially toxic way of celebrating the New Year—fireworks aren’t so hot, either. For decades, fireworks manufacturers have relied on carcinogenic chlorine-based chemicals to give red fireworks their glow, though recently some companies have begun experimenting with other ways to create their colors.

Still, if you’re looking for a dramatic way to say goodbye to 2016’s woes, a little bit of destruction can go a long way—whether by shredder, sledgehammer, or good old fashioned flame. Just make sure not to cause any damage that could plague you into the New Year.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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