A Christmas letter to Federal Way | Letter to the editor

Celebrating this holiday season looks different than in 2020.

Ode to Christmas 2021

What a year!

When we celebrated Christmas 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic had been underway for nine months. Our family bundled up and gathered in my daughter and son-in-law’s garage to share a meal and exchange Christmas gifts. They decorated a tree and we stayed toasty warm with the help of a space heater. Our grandson entertained us in a Ninja costume. The family dog trotted from person to person collecting pats and kisses. We listened to Christmas carols on a cell phone. It turned out to be one of my favorite, most relaxed Christmases ever.

During our sheltering in place, we did little else but go to work, buy groceries, and come home. We were grateful that the Federal Way Community Center found creative ways to offer us safe opportunities to exercise alone or with others. We still got chubby.

We washed everything we touched; our hands, until they bled. We watched videos on YouTube demonstrating how to wipe down the surfaces of our groceries. The first time my husband and I did this, it took us two hours, and when the final item was sufficiently sterilized, I was exhausted and in tears. “I can’t do this,” I said. I did it a few more times, and then stopped. Newspapers sat on the doorstep overnight before being taken inside to read. We lost people we loved, including a family member who died of COVID before the vaccine was available. His name was Robert. He was a funny Boston firefighter and he played the bagpipes. He wasn’t a statistic. We isolated our Amazon packages in the garage. We isolated ourselves. I feared I might become agoraphobic.

By spring, all of us (except our grandson) were fully vaccinated, and we began cautiously exploring life outside our front doors again. We visited inside our family’s homes, maskless! We hugged and kissed. We saw a scary movie in a theater, and ate in a restaurant! We went to a play. We put away the clippers and got real haircuts.

This year, we’ll celebrate indoors again, as we always did before COVID. Over 815,000 American victims of COVID will not be celebrating Christmas this year, or any more years. Hospitals are still canceling surgeries. Their beds are occupied by unvaccinated COVID patients. We are so grateful that our grandson was able to get vaccinated. It is a gift to us, knowing he can safely enjoy the indoor activities he has missed for so long. He said he wanted to be brave so people like Gen. Colin Powell wouldn’t get sick and die. He just turned 9.

During those months of isolation, we called friends and family more often, did favors, sent flowers, baked bread, planted vegetables, read books, bought jigsaw puzzles, exercised in the living room, learned how to use ZOOM, fixed things, tried not to sweat the small stuff, learned new stuff, and rearranged stuff, sometimes more than once. We bought toilet paper. We adopted comfort pets. I cleaned things I haven’t cleaned in more years than I’ll admit to here. I found so many cobwebs I Googled them to see if there was actually an insect called a “cob” that made them. (There isn’t. It’s little spiders) However, 50 years worth of loose photographs are still in boxes on my closet floor. I have no excuses now.

We have come to value scientists and medical researchers for being the heroes they are. My family is alive because of their work, which has so often gone unnoticed, unappreciated, or more recently, disparaged.

We learned how valuable it is to be hopeful, cooperative, patient, resilient, and generous. We made personal sacrifices to protect others. I hope that these qualities remain part of our post-pandemic lives.

Each year, I have signed my Christmas cards with some variation of: “Have a happy and healthy New Year.” These words take on new meaning in light of what we have all experienced.

So this year, I wish you a Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a New Year that is a little more carefree than the one we leave behind.

Keep calm and carry on.

Valerie Amato

Federal Way