At this stage in my life I have a day job that is extremely generous with paid time off. The campus closed on the 20th of December and won’t reopen until the 2nd of January. After nearly ten years I am still wrestling with the concept of getting paid for not going to work. (They also give me three weeks of vacation time, and I always have to scramble to use it before it expires at the end of the fiscal year. Taking vacation time strikes me as decadent and effete.)
However, for most of working life this has not been so. I have had the traditional writer’s plethora of odd jobs. I’ve been a locksmith, a cab driver, a convenience store clerk, a bouncer in a strip club (you want to see genuine, soul-crushing depression? Go to a strip club that is open on Christmas day.) When I did repo work I asked my boss if we were expected to repo cars on Christmas and he replied, “Of course not. The banks are closed.”
When I was married, one of my brothers-in-law was a deputy fire chief for the city, with four or five firehouses under his command. On holidays he would travel around to the stations, dropping off food and kind wishes to the men working that day. (His wife, as I recall, would bake pies–dozens of pies. Firefighters evidently have healthy appetites.)
My eldest daughter used to work in a movie theater, and I believe that she worked last Christmas. Now she works in a call center doing technical support, and I’m pretty sure she’s working this Christmas.
When my children were small we treated Christmas as a movable feast–we would have our family celebrations on whichever date I wasn’t working that was closest to the 25th. So I personally have never been that concerned with the actual date. My own childhood memories of holidays are, by and large, not happy ones.
Still, there are people for whom the date is very significant, and some of those people will be working today. Emergency services, retail outlets that stay open all year, utility workers, all those people who ensure that the rest of us have what we need in this increasingly interconnected and mechanized world.
Be nice to them.
There are people all over the world who awoke this morning to the jangling of an alarm clock rather than the dancing of the sugarplums, who crept out of bed and out into a cold morning while their families slept, who are watching the clock and waiting for the time when they can go home and spend what is left of their holidays with the people who matter to them.
If you find yourself dealing with someone who is on the clock today, in whatever capacity, try to remember to be extra nice. Tip well, if it’s a job where tipping is customary, and if it isn’t, consider tipping anyway.
Above all, be willing to forgive a little grumpiness. People who are working today don’t hate you, they hate working today. Try to make the experience a little less miserable.