Today is the 17th of December. There is one week before the Big Night. One week from Christmas is tomorrow, the 18th, but we all know that if you don’t have everything ready on the 24th, it’s too late. The presents better be bought – the food better be in the fridge or the freezer – the family better be at Grandma’s or wherever; because the 25th is for relaxing and just enjoying the day of the Nativity.
But some of us (myself included) have to work a bit harder to relax on the 25th, because we are working the 25th. We also, very often, work the 24th. Those of you with “traditional” workweeks, of 9 to 5, sometimes forget that today’s society is very 24/7. So much so that even a day like Christmas is just another workday to many of us.
I work in air traffic (not in the tower or the radar room anymore – not for years). I tell pilots about the weather, file flight plans, and help pilots plan their trips. Then they know how safe it is even before they get in the cockpit of their private or corporate jets. Pilots fly on the 25th. A lot fly on the 24th, trying to get to “home” in rotten weather, and sometimes the pilot takes risks to get there. Sometimes the pilot doesn’t make it. And, no, I can’t track the NORAD Santa site while at work.
I used to be a disk jockey – worked for several stations in the Triad. One of them had the 30 hours of Christmas, from 6pm the 24th until midnight on the 25th, when all “glad tidings” and “jingle bell rocks” ended, and it’s back to the secular world. (This was before the two months of holiday music, on several stations, nowadays.) Somebody has to be at the stations to play that music, for you to enjoy, while you unwrap your presents on Christmas Day. Sometimes that somebody was me.
In years of yore, my parents adjusted to their son’s quirky schedule. We’d have present openings in the afternoon, after my shift was over at 4, or on the 26th or 27th, when we had more time to enjoy the visit. (Note there were no kids under 10 who would die if they had to wait until after sun-rise on the 25th!). Now my wife deals with it by going to the family gatherings and just saying, “Michael can’t make it – he’s working tonight.”
Please don’t think that I am complaining. I enjoy my job, a lot. I’m thankful that I have a job – a lot. But it also makes me realize that Christmas isn’t just a day – it’s a season, a feeling, and aura, over a series of days. Sure, they bring jokes of “I’m not off for Christmas, but I’m off for the three French hens and the four calling birds.” It’s a time for reflection at the end of the year, even before the New Year’s Resolutions (and I work that Eve too!)
Please remember, especially in Durham – the “City of Medicine” – that there are many people who consider Christmas just another workday, and have to “work” around it to be with family. Doctors, physician assistants, nurses – they all have shifts on the 25th. Sometimes 12 hours, with another the day before or after. They have to adjust to enjoy the day off, even if the day off is not until “5 golden rings.”
St. Luke’s, the church named after the patron saint of medicine and doctors, has more than its share of people in this situation. The parish also has firefighters and other emergency personnel who must respond on the 25th as if it was any other day. We just relax on Boxing Day, or St. John’s, or Holy Innocents.
I try to call several radio stations on the 25th, and tell the person “thank you” for being there. I can’t call the fire stations, and I don’t want to call 911 just to say that, but I do find ways to appreciate those who must watch, and wait, while most of us just relax and unwrap on the 25th. One week from tomorrow. More or less.
Written by Michael Hale Gray