Bangor’s ‘Hopeful’ new piece of public art on Main Street was unveiled by the United Way on Thursday evening. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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This week most Americans will celebrate Christmas, but in their own ways.

Personally, I’ll observe Christmastime by listening to Jonathan Winters’ rendition of “A Christmas Carol” on public radio and in the traditional way of American Jews — with Chinese food and a movie. With the omicron variant on the loose, the dishes won’t be eaten in a restaurant and the film will be seen streaming. And it will be more than just good.

In a year of trying to thwart new variants of COVID-19, holiday celebrations are just part of what has brought joy this year.

Close to my heart, I saw big steps by friends and family members, including having a baby, getting engaged, starting graduate school, replacing a job lost during the pandemic with a better one, moving to a new area, and preparing for a career shift. With a colleague, I finished writing and published another book.

And so many people worked hard to help others, to get us through these tough times. One of the most inspiring, impressive things I experienced was the vaccination clinic at the Bangor Civic Center. Everyone was so pleasant and professional and everything so well-organized and efficient, as people were moved step-by-step from check-in through the short wait after getting each shot. If it wasn’t for the people who made that happen and then set up ways to get a booster, we’d be much less safe.

Maine has done much better than other states in dealing with COVID. Only two states — Vermont and Hawaii — have lower death rates. That’s due to Maine’s high vaccination rates — a lesson that should be heeded in rural counties with surging cases and fewer Mainers vaccinated.

The pandemic kept me in Maine, mostly, but I found plenty to appreciate right here.

Living in Bangor means you don’t have to travel hours and hours to find someplace to kayak with very few people around, where you can call to loons and watch eagles circle back to their nests. Many an adventure started by paging through a Maine Atlas and Gazetteer to locate nonmotorized boat launches by remote lakes. I stood on shores around the state taking in amazing views before my husband and I launched our boats.

Besides less traveled paths, I checked out regions of the state I hadn’t explored that much, both in rural and urban areas, and saw Maine’s sweep and majesty.

Folks, we live in an extraordinarily beautiful state. That’s one reason why people moved to Maine during the pandemic, something our aging state has needed (but which led to a  less affordable housing market).

Maine’s also preserved our beauty by taking policy steps to protect the land. Besides federal locales — Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument (another lovely place I first traversed in 2021) and Acadia National Park — we have a lot of state parks and public reserved lands and local trusts.

We’re also working to protect the environment and getting national recognition for it. Consumer Affairs ranked Maine fifth best in its list of greenest states, pointing to strengths in tackling carbon emissions, waste, recycling, composting and energy generation. The group also noted incentives and loans for heat pumps, electric vehicles, geothermal systems and better insulation. It noticed that Maine passed the first law ( LD 1541) aimed at decreasing packaging that shifts recycling costs to corporations.

More electric car charging stations have been installed in Maine, increasing 65 percent since 2019 and Gov. Janet Mills backs doing more. (In contrast, Gov. Paul LePage was hostile toward renewable solar and wind energy.) While Sen. Joe Manchin said on Sunday he couldn’t pass Build Back Better in its current form, he has supported some of its clean energy incentives, which the House bill included funding for 10 years.

Of course there are many challenges ahead. But we should also appreciate the good and plan to move forward, helping those in our close circles and beyond. Then next year there will be more to celebrate.

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Amy Fried, Opinion columnist

Amy Fried has written about the media and politics, women in politics, Maine and American political culture, and political activism, and works to create change through the Rising Tide Center. A political...