Esther Walker wrote this in the Independent. I have reordered some of the features.
Edy (age withheld), volunteer, the Samaritans
I’ve been a Samaritan for about six years. The office is not a depressing place to be at Christmas at all. The volunteers are in good spirits, and we have mince pies; there are also a lot of Christmas cards that callers have sent to us. It’s really a nice place to be.
The morning shift is about five hours and the afternoon shift is about four and a half hours, and we have a night watch as well. Surprisingly, Christmas Day itself isn’t that busy – it’s the days after that are busier. As a Samaritan, you speak to people who are having such a difficult time, and it’s particularly poignant at Christmas, when we all take for granted that we have family and friends. Christmas can be unbearable for people when they know everyone else is having such a good time.
There’s one caller I’ve seen twice. He’s in a wheelchair and, because there’s no transport on Christmas Day, he wheels himself in to see us and to say “Happy Christmas”. He usually ends up staying for a couple of hours, and the bottom of it is that he feels he needs to talk to someone, and I think that’s very moving.
Depending on what shift I’m doing, I’ll probably go for a walk in the morning and then phone up my family in Scotland and in Germany. I haven’t really made any other plans yet. I have no relatives in London, so it’s not a big deal for me to give up my time on the day. I myself am not wild about Christmas. I’m Scottish, so I prefer New Year’s Eve, which is why I don’t mind coming in. I certainly don’t see myself as a martyr for working.
Jane Porter, 34, A&E sister at Chelsea and Westminster hospital
I’ve worked the past 11 out of 12 Christmas days, so I’m quite experienced at it! Sometimes whether you have to work or not is just the luck of the draw, but most times we’re allowed to choose if we want to work either at Christmas or New Year. Seeing as I don’t have any children, I tend to go for Christmas so that my colleagues can have time with their families.
I’ve only worked one New Year’s Eve, and that was depressing. It was mainly excessive alcohol intake and lots of people feeling very sorry for themselves. But you can never tell what isgoing to come through the door.
Most Christmas Days aren’t that busy. We tend to see more elderly patients coming in from falls or chest infections – or those who just aren’t coping very well over Christmas. There was only one Christmas when I worked that was really busy – the shift is 12 hours, from 8am to 8pm, and that was a long day.
It’s normally quite fun in A&E anyway; there’s a large medical team and all the nurses, and then the London Ambulance Service come in. Although it might sound depressing, it usually turns out to be quite a nice day. Everyone comes in with a very positive attitude and we just get on with it.
Pascal Proyart, 41, head chef, One-O-One, Knightsbridge
In France, the big day for celebrating Christmas isn’t the 25th but the 24th, so it’s really OK for me to be working on Christmas Day – I don’t mind. On Christmas Eve, One-O-One is full of French people mostly, celebrating their Christmas. We’re all booked for dinner by August. I prepare as much as I can the day before, and then go home to my wife and sons, who wait up for me. At midnight we open presents and have a good time; in the morning we all have breakfast together, and then I shoot off at about 10.30. I come home at about five or six.
I don’t think the staff really mind working on Christmas Day, because most of them don’t have kids – I think there’s one who does, and we try to give him the day off. But the rest are OK to work, I think – we give them all a drink at about 4pm before I leave. It’s a really good atmosphere, actually – a great festive ambience, such that it’s one day when you really don’t mind to work.
We’re full every Christmas Day at lunchtime. For a lot of people, cooking a Christmas lunch or dinner for their family (and sometimes their extended family) is a lot of work, quite stressful, and maybe leads to arguments. If they can afford it, I think, a lot of families prefer to go out. It’s quite expensive to do that in London, but a lot of people do.
I have a lot of family in France, but usually I go to see them a fortnight or so before Christmas. I haven’t seen them on Christmas Day for a long time, but that’s the sacrifice you make when you choose to work abroad – I was told that. But I’ve got my wife and my sons here in London, and that’s what matters.
When I was growing up I think we were quite spoilt. I’m from the countryside, and was really into outdoors things like fishing, so our presents were always things like skateboards and bikes. I think I probably spoil my kids – but if you can, you do. I definitely spoil my wife – I’d better!
Neil Fox, 46, Magic FM DJ
When I arrived at Magic two years ago, I don’t think they expected me to work on Christmas Day. When I assumed I would be, they said: “What… seriously?” Some of the other guys record their Christmas Day shows, but because I’m doing it and I’m, you know, the breakfast show jock, I think it has put pressure on others to do their shows live.
One hour of the programme, from 11am to midday, will be a Great Ormond Street hour; the hospital is the station’s chosen charity for the year. I’ve been down to speak to the kids and the parents and nurses, and I’ll play their favourite songs. I’m looking forward to it. I’ve got three children and they’re too small to come in this year, but maybe next year they can come along.
It only takes me about 10 minutes to get to work and back on my bike. I’ll be back at 12.30pm for a bit of Christmas lunch – we’ve got 15 people round for the lunch this year.
I’ve got very happy memories of Christmas from my childhood, but it’s a sad time for a lot of people. My wife’s parents split up when she was young. She spent her youth going to one parent or the other, so Christmas can be very emotional for her.
A lot of people think it must be a pain to work on Christmas Day, but actually it’s really good fun. Nothing else matters; you’re just playing some nice songs and getting kids on the phone to talk about what they’ve got for Christmas. They’re so excited, it’s just great. And there’s none of that traffic, weather, news stuff; it’s just a lovely escapist morning.
Captain Nicola Bush, 27, medical liaison officer to Task Force Helmand, based at 52 Infantry Brigade Headquarters in Lashkar Gah
I’ve been away on Christmas Day before, in Basra in 2005. I was serving with a troop organising medical support to the Highlanders Battle Group. Everyone made the most of being away on operations. It rained all day, so it was kind of like being in the UK. There was plenty of festive spirit about; the chefs provided an amazing Christmas lunch.
Christmas Day here in Helmand province will be business as usual. There will be frontline troops deployed on the ground – so, as usual, we will be giving 24-hour support to ensure that all their requirements are met, including what they need to make the best of Christmas Day away from their families.
There will be Midnight Masses and Christmas morning services throughout the province, given by one of the dozen padres in theatre. We will each receive a “square stocking”, which has been kindly donated through a charity called uk4u Thanks!; it organises gift-boxes filled with presents for personnel serving over Christmas. It is sponsored by some fantastic companies, such as Deloitte, Rolls-Royce and Marks & Spencer. And there will be Christmas lunch with all the trimmings for as many troops as possible; of course, it depends where they are.
If I wasn’t out here I would be at home with my family: mum, dad, sister and gran. When I was little, at Christmas I was always too nervous and excited to go to bed and would wait up for Santa to arrive. I’d leave a mince pie, brandy and a carrot for Rudolph. On Boxing Day we visit the neighbours for Christmas drinks.
I’ll really miss it all this Christmas. Mum serves a gastronomic delight that lasts all afternoon. We play after-dinner games, and then relax in the evening in front of the TV. If we’ve got any space left, we’ll eat a bit more.
I send letters home quickly through the Army’s e-bluey and fax bluey systems. We also get phone cards that give us 30 minutes a week to call friends and family. The welfare facilities are fantastic. What we’re all really looking forward to is that Skype will soon be available through wireless internet, which we’re having installed.
On Christmas Day, I will phone home; we have all been given an extra 30 minutes on the phone. My family have already sent parcels, which I won’t be opening until Christmas Day (although I’ve prodded them a bit).
The things I miss most about not being at home are my family, a bath, real milk and proper crockery and cutlery; it’s never quite right eating Christmas lunch off plastic plates.
Henrietta Knight, 61, racehorse trainer
Christmas is a very busy time in the racing calendar and there are some big races on Boxing Day, so Christmas Day is much the same as any other busy day. My husband and I will get up at the same time as normal – at about a quarter to five – and feed all the horses in the yard; at the moment there are about 65 or 70. Most of my staff come in at about seven, and they’ll ride some of the horses. We’ll watch them cantering until about 11 and then everyone will go home – or go wherever they are spending the rest of the day. Then I’ll cook lunch, a proper Christmas lunch. I adore cooking, it’s one of my favourite pastimes and we will have a turkey with all the bits that go with it. We live in the farmhouse and we have some staff staying over Christmas, so they’ll bring their plates in and get some lunch, too.
After lunch we might watch some television and later I’ll have a look around the horses again and check on my Connemara ponies who are out in the field. They’ve got their winter coats, though, so they don’t mind the cold.
I’ll also be doing a lot of riding lists and trying to work out the transport to Kempton Park, and finalising who will be where with what horse. Boxing Day is a big day in the racing calendar and we don’t do very much on the day except keep an eye on the horses and get organised.
The horses’ owners often send them Christmas cards, which get pinned up on the walls of their mangers – they get presents of polo mints, too. Horses just love polo mints – they’ll eat Extra Strong Mints, too, but they’re quite discerning. They prefer Polo mints, but not the sugar-free ones.
The owners are terribly generous to us as well; we’re really spoilt for Christmas presents. We get lovely books and things for the bath, and china. I have a lot of chickens and ducks on the farm, so I get presents decorated with chickens and ducks: the kitchen is overrun with them.
Richard North, 41, Logistics co-ordinator, Red Cross
I’ve been working for the Red Cross for 14 years. I’ve worked over Christmas and New Year before – the last time was during the tsunami three years ago, which was a full-on operation. Meeting the needs of the local people is critical, but after something like the tsunami or like the cyclone in Bangladesh, when everything has been destroyed, getting an operation up and running out of nothing can be tricky.
You see some terrible things, but you’re usually too busy to reflect on them. I remember once we were in Iran after the earthquake and we had an afternoon off. Driving round the city, we could smell the dead bodies underneath the rubble. At times like that you realise how many people have died, how devastating it has been. That’s hard.
I don’t feel too much in danger when I’m working. Sometimes after an earthquake there can be huge cracks in the walls of the buildings where you’re staying and I have sometimes lain awake at night thinking: “I hope that holds up until the morning.”
When I’ve been away at this time of year before, you always try to have a little get together or a party with your team, but invariably because there’s not much to do in these places you end up working. Christmas Day and New Year’s Day sort of pass you by. If I wasn’t working I’d be with my family in Leeds. We had an early Christmas a few weeks ago – my two nieces were a bit upset that I wouldn’t be there on Christmas Day. I tried to explain to them why not. I don’t think the eight-year-old understood, but the 13-year-old got the idea of what I’m doing and why I have to go away – she seemed quite intrigued, in fact, so I suggested to her that she might like to do a similar job when she grows up. You have to get them young…
I’m not married, but if I were, I would reconsider making myself available over Christmas. At the moment, I’m just looking forward to being out there and doing a good job.
Gill Landey, 38, customer services team leader, First Direct
I’m Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, so working isn’t a problem for me. I’ve worked for First Direct for 16 years and I think I’ve probably worked just over half of the Christmas Days. Everyone working here on Christmas Day is a volunteer. I like to do it because it means that people who have children can be with them on the day. I take other Jewish holidays off, like Yom Kippur and Rosh Hashanah, so people who want to take Christmas off should be able to. My family still have a nice family day even though I’m not there; I’ve got three sons so I like to think of it as a day when all my men can bond.
We have just celebrated Hanukkah where my sons get a present every day for eight days, so I feel like I’ve done all my shopping and running about. Now I’m just sat back watching everyone else dash around!
The atmosphere in the office on Christmas Day is great. We try to do quizzes and we have mince pies and a secret Santa and all of that. I think my sons quite enjoy Christmas. They like going to look at all the decorations, and they definitely like the Christmas TV specials.
We get a steady stream of calls through the day. A lot of people ring us up just to wish us a happy Christmas. It’s touching, really. What we’re really there for at Christmas is for emergencies; to stop lost or stolen cards or help people who’ve gone abroad on holiday.
I’m also working on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, but then I’m taking a week off over New Year. We’re going to the Lake District for a few days. It’s lovely to have a bit of time with the kids while they’re not at school.
Peter Offer, 44, BBC continuity announcer
People often ask me why we can’t pre-record continuity announcements. The reason is that you lose the reactivity that you have with live continuity announcing. If, God forbid, something happened on Christmas Day, we’d need to have that immediate response. We could record it all – and some channels do – but I think you lose that personal edge.
I joined the BBC in 1985 as a sound recordist, but for the last 16 years I’ve been an announcer. Mercifully, nothing too dramatic has happened to me while I’ve been working on Christmas Day. The most memorable Christmas I had was back in the mid-Nineties when we had the majority of the Christmas audience. We had a very strong evening schedule that year: there was the Only Fools and Horses Christmas special, and some other things that people were really looking forward to. We got a phone call that evening from the electricity generating board: they said that the power surges on the national grid were corresponding exactly with the junctions between programmes, which is when people were switching kettles on. It meant that the majority of the country was watching us, which is quite scary when you think about it like that. The viewing figures were about 20 million to 30 million people, a third of the country.
I think a lot of people assume that in between programmes we sit there with our feet up, but it doesn’t work like that. We write all our scripts; I’ll probably be writing copy for my next shift.
As long as I don’t have to do it every year, I don’t mind working at Christmas. People always need to be entertained and someone’s got to work on that day. So I don’t mind. It goes with the territory.
Kay Burley, 46, presenter, Sky News
Of the past 19 years I’ve been at Sky, I’ve probably worked about 16 Christmas Days, and I always volunteer. When I first started doing it I didn’t have a child and then when Alexander came along, we just carried on.
Everyone thinks “Poor you!” if you have to work on Christmas Day. When I get home my partner always has a glass of champagne ready for me and any relatives we’ve got staying organise dinner. All that I have to do is sit there and smile.
My shift is four hours, from 6am until 10am, so it’s out of the way quickly. I’m not sure how to describe what it’s like working at Sky; there’s that saying that lawyers lock up their mistakes, doctors bury theirs and journalists broadcast them, that’s never far from my mind.
The atmosphere at Christmas is definitely different. When Elisabeth Murdoch was here she would bring in a tray of mince pies and there were always sweets on the desk. There’s the sense that we’re a band of brothers – and aren’t we brave and clever to come in on Christmas Day? There’s always plenty of news. Last year James Brown died; Nicolae Ceausescu was executed on Christmas Day in 1989.
My son, who’s 14, is turning into quite a little Gordon Ramsay. He helps me to cook the meat on Christmas Eve so there’s less to do on Christmas Day. I get back after work at about 10.30am and after a couple of glasses of champagne I really don’t want to do any cooking.
On Boxing Day we have a lot more people round and we play games and have trophies and inter-teams. It’s a big, fun, family occasion. I’d like to say that we go to church but that would be a lie. I am, however, reading at a Christmas service for Macmillan Cancer Care.
Rory Knight Bruce, 51, farmer
Ten years ago, when my father died, I decided to come back and run the family farm, which is a 150-acre mixed farm near Exeter.
The farm has always been run the way I am running it now, and I will continue to run it this way. So we’ll be lambing outdoors over Christmas, in the old-fashioned way. Lambing used to happen in spring, but “cuckoo” lamb is more valuable. It happens within about a three-week period, and it will certainly be happening at Christmas.
Christmas Day is very much a working day like any other, although there are, of course, some differences for us. We’ll get up half an hour earlier, at 6.30am, so that we can go to Exeter Cathedral, where my great, great grandfather was the bishop, for their morning service. And I have already ordered a goose from the butcher that we will have here for lunch. We don’t have a lavish Christmas, and our presents to each other are not expensive, but we do gifting to our child from the cats and the dogs. That might sound a bit pathetic but that’s what we used to do when I was a child.
When I was working in London, I used to come back home at Christmas and help out my father and have lunch with him. His Christmases were pretty austere – he had been a prisoner of war and I think it made him very modest in his celebrations.
Boxing Day is more of a day off for us because there is the annual Boxing Day Meet in Thorverton where my brother is master of the hounds. There will be about 70 of us on horses, and another 100 on foot. It’s only for a trail hunt, but it is the great festive moment in the winter calendar. A lot of people who don’t live in the countryside don’t realise the potential for intense loneliness you can find in farming; you don’t run into people in an informal, unorganised way.
Nick Devenish, 43, Vicar
This is my fourth Christmas as a full-time vicar, but I was very involved in the church as a lay preacher before that, so my family are used to Christmas being a busy time.
The event I am most excited about this Christmas is a multimedia version of the traditional nativity service in our local shopping centre on the 22 December. I’m the vicar to a new development and we don’t have a church building yet so this seemed like a good alternative. I think many members of the clergy worry about materialism at Christmas, but really the hype keeps the church on the agenda.
For the service, we’ll use film, music and a PA system. Instead of expecting the community to come to us, we’re taking the church message to the community. If just one person walks away with a different message of Christmas then we’ll have done our job. I’m hugely excited about it.
On Christmas Eve there will be carols by lantern at 6pm – albeit by torchlight. We’re expecting about 400 people. Then there’s midnight mass, which my family will come to – although we can’t sit together. On Christmas day morning there is another service, which finishes at 11am, at which point I go home and collapse!