In four short years, a wave of 400th anniversaries will begin sweeping across the Bay State, starting with Plymouth in 2020. Quincy follows in 2025, Salem in 2026, and Boston in 2030. If there is one thing that is certain, it's that there will be plenty of celebrations. The party planning got kicked off in earnest this week as historians, elected officials, and folks from the tourism industry gathered at the Hotel 1620 in Plymouth for the 2016 Massachusetts 400 Forum

In a crowded event room, everyone wanted to make sure I understood one thing: the upcoming wave of Massachusetts quartercentenaries is an opportunity. An opportunity to educate. An opportunity to bring in dollars.  But, above all, says Michelle Pecoraro, head of Plymouth 400, it’s an opportunity to tell the story of America on a really big scale.

"Massachusetts, I don’t think gets it’s due in American history," she said. "So we need to show the world where their American history came from and really ultimately it was Massachusetts."

But when that history is 400 years in the making – there’s simply no way around it. It’s complicated.

"It is always hard work, I think, to tell a complicated story," said Frieke Hurkmans, executive director of Pieterskerk, a church and cultural center in Leiden, Holland. That’s where where the Pilgrims spent more than a decade before sailing for America, and were exposed to Dutch ideals like civil marriage and freedom of religion.

"Leiden was the first city where people elected their city government," said Hurkmans. "[The Pilgrims] took that to America."

And when the Pilgrims did arrive, there were – of course – entire nations of people already here. That’s a fact that Pecoraro admits has not always been handled with grace.

"It think it’s really for the first time in the history of commemorating this event – the coming of Mayflower – we have reached out and said we want the Native story told, by Native people, in the Native voice.

"It just seems ridiculous that it’s been 400 years and people don’t know the full history," said Linda Coombs, who represents the Wampanoag people on the Plymouth 400 board. "To go another 400 years without people knowing it is just wrong."

Coombs said her task is not easy, but it is straightforward. Make sure, as plans develop, that the whole story be told.

"The Wampanoag story is not something separate from the landing of the Mayflower because the Mayflower landed in our territory," she said.

The fruits of this group’s efforts will be a dizzying array of commemorations, parades, concerts, travel deals, exhibitions and symposia over several years. And that’s just the start, said Salem mayor Kim Driscoll.

"We want to think about these lasting legacies," she said. "We have a tercentenary memorial that’s a green space downtown. [It's] very reflective. What’s that big idea we want to capture for 400 that goes beyond the year as a source of great community pride and an opportunity to educate and advocate for our community?"

If it seems like there’s still plenty of time to figure this all this out, Massachusetts Cultural Council head Anita Walker says, don’t fool yourself.

"We should be stepping on the gas and really leaning into this because four years is gonna be gone in a minute," she said.

After all, you do only turn 400 once.  

"This is a story about America, but its also a story about what is happening in the world around us today," said Walker. "It is so relevant to modern times. We’re talking about immigration. We’re talking about liberties. We’re talking about a way of life that was really, sort of, forged here 400 years ago and has been evolving over these many, many years here in America and around the world."

It might not be the Olympics, but it sure sounds like a Herculean task for 2020.