The joys of working on Christmas
By the Echo Press Editorial Team - firstname.lastname@example.org
For many people, Christmas isn’t a time to open presents, enjoy a feast with family and friends, go to church or gather ‘round the tree.
It’s business as usual. But they don’t seem to mind. They make the most of it and still find some Christmas cheer.
The Echo Press editorial team took a look into how the holiday is spent in eight different settings – at a farm, in nursing homes, at the jail, at the ambulance service, at a hospital cafeteria, at a local plant, at the incinerator and for workers on-call. Here’s what we found:
IN THE BARN On a dairy farm, the chores can’t wait. The livestock needs to be fed and the cattle need to be milked, twice a day, every day.
Because of that, Christmas gatherings are planned around the chore schedule at the Larry Lund residence near Brandon.
It’s always been that way for Larry, who grew up on a dairy farm – the same farm he now owns.
“Opening presents always had to wait until the chores were done,” he recalled.
Farming is a family affair for the Lunds. Larry’s wife, Mary Kay, helps with the milking, as does the couple’s oldest son, William. The couple’s four other children also get involved with the chores.
The Lunds milk about 40 cows twice a day, every day, 365 days a year. The milking, along with the other chores, typically takes about three hours in the morning and two hours in the evening.
That means that five hours every day – including Christmas Day – are spent working.
“It’s just what we do,” Larry said. “The chores have to get done on holidays just like any other day.”
ON CALL AT ELLINGSON’S Everyone needs winter heat, especially in Minnesota. To keep up with the demand, Ellingson’s Plumbing, Heating, A/C and Electrical in Alexandria has workers on call at all times during the holidays.
They make the holiday schedule a year in advance and give it to all heating and air technicians, electricians and plumbers, according to Monty Herness, Ellingson’s service manager.
With an average of 55 calls a day, the servicemen get to spend the day at home but are ready to jump into action to fix clogged drains, plugged sewers, broken heating, faulty electricity and more.
“If you call, you get a live person,” Herness said.
To celebrate this season, Ellingson’s employees enjoyed a potluck and will exchange gifts.
IN ASSISTED LIVING FACILITIES There’s no place like home for the holidays. That’s why staff members at Diamond Willow Assisted Living in Alexandria do their best to make sure Christmas is a special time for the residents who call it home.
“The residents are extensions of our own family, and the staff enjoys spending Christmas with them,” said Natalie Zeleznikar, vice president of operations.
It is a Diamond Willow tradition to purchase gifts for all residents. On Christmas Day, those who are working gather with the residents around the fireplace in the great room, which is adorned with decorations and a Christmas tree. They give out the gifts and watch the residents open them.
“It’s a laid back morning where no one is rushing,” Zeleznikar said. “They’ll have hot cocoa and reminisce about holiday times spent with family and their traditions.
“The staff is making a difference in the lives of the residents, and that takes away the sacrifice,” she added. “They get more back than they are giving.”
She noted that the staff is willing to cooperatively work out a schedule that accommodates everyone.
“We have to be staffed on holidays just like any other day,” Zeleznikar said. “The reality is that this is a call to duty. Someone has to be there 24 hours a day, sometimes giving up something else to be there.
“But they do it, and family members of our residents are grateful for that.”
That family extension can also be found in nursing home settings.
According to Randee Hall, director of community services and marketing at Ecumen Bethany Community in Alexandria, staff members are positive about working holidays.
“It’s a more relaxed, festive atmosphere, and they get to share the joy of the day with residents who may or may not have family around,” she said. “That’s why they are in this line of work.”
Ecumen Bethany is staffed the same on Christmas Day as any other day.
“Everybody on our campus, from the administrator down, works a holiday rotation and weekends,” Hall added. “We are all in it together.”
A special dinner is provided to residents on Christmas and an extra dining room is set up to accommodate family visitors.
“It’s a special time for the residents as well as the staff,” Hall said.
AT THE SUNTOPTA PLANT Many manufacturing plants in the country operate year-round and the SunOpta plant on 3rd Avenue in Alexandria is also working full-steam ahead on Christmas.
“We didn’t want to force it, so we asked for volunteers and had an entire shift full,” said Plant Manager Nolan Wolcow.
Time and a half and an additional eight-hour holiday pay was offered to get volunteers to work the 12-hour shift on Christmas Day.
“The same thing is offered for all our holidays,” Wolcow said. “We worked through Thanksgiving, too.”
SunOpta will also have meals catered in to celebrate the holiday with their employees.
AT POPE/DOUGLAS SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
Waste is generated every day, which is why Pope/Douglas Solid Waste Management operates 24/7, even on the holidays, according to Peter Olmscheid, PDSWM executive director.
Workers must be at the facility at all times, so they are scheduled in rotating shifts. And as a bonus, they receive holiday pay.
Holiday operations are normal, except that they don’t accept outside waste, which means even more the day after.
“Right after the holidays, we’ll have a ton of waste because of all the Christmas wrap, so we need to make room for all of that waste coming in,” Olmscheid said.
ON CALL AT ALEXANDRIA PUBLIC WORKS If it snows, it’s just a matter of a phone call, and Alexandria Public Works will be there to assist.
Roughly, 15 people are on call for holidays, said Bill Thoennes, park director and interim public works coordinator, which encompasses parks, sand and streets.
A few people are on call for each job, from slick roads to removing snow that falls overnight to clearing the skating ice in Noonan Park.
According to Thoennes, three people come in bright and early Christmas morning to take care of the ice at the rink. A worker will also man the warming house at Noonan Park all day on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
AT THE JAIL Jail is certainly not the place people would want to be on Christmas.
But the staff at the Douglas County Jail try to make the day a bit brighter for the inmates.
For years, Jail Administrator Jackie Notch brought the inmates hygiene products for the holiday, but last year she hit on a new idea that caused more excitement: pizza.
Notch and her family brought in take-and-bake pizzas on Christmas Eve night, cooked them right at the jail and delivered them to each of the jail’s four housing units. The inmates also sipped on sodas and milk and some of them chose to watch a holiday movie on TV.
It was such a hit that she’ll do it again this year. “They really seemed to like it,” she said.
Notch paid for the pizzas using money generated from the inmate’s canteen fund.
She described Christmas Day at the jail as a “low key” celebration; there are, of course, no court hearings that day.
The jail itself is only sparsely decorated for Christmas this year. Some inmates in the female housing unit put up snowflake decorations and red-and-green ringlets. You can also spot a small Christmas tree here and there, but that’s about it.
The jail is fully staffed during Christmas. Notch said they make out the schedule a year ahead of time to make sure that those who worked on Christmas Day don’t have to keep working on the holiday year after year.
The kitchen also prepares a special meal on Christmas. A few local churches also get into the spirit of the holiday by donating cookies to the inmates.
The jail staff isn’t forgotten. They’re typically treated to a meat and cheese tray.
Christmas Eve visiting hours at the jail will be the same as any other Tuesday: 7 to 10 p.m. Visitors talk to the inmates through a telephone video system.
Even though it’s low-key and business as usual, there is a special feeling in the jail at Christmastime, brought on by pizzas, cookies and other small treats.
“They [the inmates] are definitely treated a little differently on Christmas Eve than every other night of the year, which is cool,” Notch said.
AT THE AMBULANCE SERVICE
While many people will be indoors with family this Christmas, the paramedics at North Ambulance Douglas County will be busy rushing around town saving lives.
One of those paramedics is Mamie Webber, who has worked at North Ambulance since 1995. Webber has worked on most Christmases, and said that one perk for working on holidays is a little extra pay.
“A lot of times it’s not a choice,” she said.
This year Webber is working Christmas Eve after offering to take the shift from a coworker so he can be home with his young children. Now that her own children have grown up, Webber’s family finds time to meet for holiday gatherings when all of them are available.
“We’re not doing anything on Christmas Eve anyways,” she said.
As a paramedic, it is tough to know whether she will receive a lot of calls or very few this Christmas Eve. Generally, Webber said, the amount of calls on the holiday is similar to any other day she works.
To chase away the blues of working on a holiday, the paramedics will often try to find something special to do while they are on their shifts.
“I like to cook for my crew,” Webber said. “If I can cook or bring in some goodies, it can make the day go by faster.”
AT THE HOSPITAL CAFETERIA Mai Pham has been a cook at Douglas County Hospital for six years and she’s delighted that she gets to work on Christmas Day.
“I don’t mind working on Christmas. It doesn’t matter, because we work in a hospital and we must serve the patients,” she said with a proud smile.
“I love Christmas and if they put me on schedule, I am so happy,” she said.
“You know, I think Christmas is very important for family, but you can enjoy with your family your whole life.
“I’m just so, so happy because we serve… we’re serving people. That’s what matters. And I hope all the staff that work on Christmas are happy too,” she said.
Pham has worked several Christmases over the years.
So, will the kitchen staff cook up something special for the Christmas Day menu?
“I think so, something like family has outside the hospital – ham or turkey.”
Pham works two jobs. She’s also been a cook at Knute Nelson Care Center for 11 years.
“I enjoy the residents, I enjoy my co-workers, I enjoy my work,” she said.
After work on Wednesday, Pham will celebrate with her youngest son who will be home from school where he is an engineering student at North Dakota State University. Her oldest son is an officer in the U.S. Army, stationed in North Carolina.