Christmas Day: Plan B

Firefighters, nurses and non-Christians share what it’s like to have a non-traditional Christmas DayChristmas Day: Plan BHere’s What People Who Don’t, or Can’t, Celebrate On Dec. 25 Will Be Up To 

By Kristina Abernathy

It’s almost December and people are gearing up for the shopping, cooking and decorating that accompanies the holiday season. Wherever you go in Tallahassee, cheer is in the air. Friends and family gather, wishing one another a very Merry Christmas. It’s a wonderful time to celebrate the birth of Christ, spend time with relatives, and partake in gift giving and receiving.

Although it is a joyous occasion for most, there are many who don’t celebrate the traditional pastimes of Christmas. Some are of other religious faiths, while others are working to protect our city, save lives and keep us healthy during the holidays.

Jimmy Shiver, a captain with the Tallahassee Fire Department at Station 1 on North Adams Street, is in the latter group. He has spent 22 years as a firefighter. With that much experience under his belt, you can bet he has worked many a holiday.

“I have two children, 11 and 7, and I obviously would like to be with my family,” Shiver says. “When children are young, they cannot understand that Dad must work.”

So how does Shiver solve this problem? He celebrates Christmas before and after his shift.

“Sometimes I take the fire truck home if I am on call leave,” he says. At other times, families come and visit the firefighters on duty.

“Our families play an integral part in holidays, bringing gifts and food, trying to make it look as festive as it can,” Shiver says. “Everyone here tries to work together toward a consensus, and sometimes people without children volunteer to work so we can spend time with our families.”

Lt. Jake Anderson also works at Station 1 and has 14 years of experience.

“This is my second family. My real family understands that when I took this position, they must work around my schedule,” says Anderson, who has worked his share of Christmas Eves and Christmas Days.

“Christmas can be busy, and it’s an opportunity to give back to the community,” he says. “I don’t think that’s a bad thing.”

Scott Henderson, a fire department lieutenant with more than 21 years of experience, was forthright when asked about his experiences working during Christmas.

“It’s part of the job to work Christmas, depending on which shift you have,” he says. “Holidays don’t mean anything; you just deal with it.” Whenever a person is promoted to a higher division, he or she becomes the low person on the totem pole and usually has to work the holiday shift.

“Working Christmas can definitely be an experience,” Henderson says. “During the Christmas of 1989, it was freezing and snowing a little. We had three fires to put out that day, and they were due to people cooking.”

Another institution open on Christmas – and every other day of the year – is Tallahassee Memorial Hospital. The hospital employs 3,000 people, including nearly 1,000 nurses, says Barbara MacArthur, a vice president and chief nursing officer. When it comes to deciding who will work and who gets off at Christmas and other major holidays, staff members, she says, are usually able to “work that out among themselves.”

And then there’s RN Nurse Manager Dorothy Graves, a 38-year veteran at TMH.

“Everybody knows she works on Christmas,” MacArthur says.

It started more than 30 years ago, says Graves, who now supervises the hospital’s family care and post-operative care units, when she was a supervisor and “felt responsible” for being there on the holiday.

“If I asked my staff (to work on Christmas Day), then I should, too,” she says.

Over the years, Graves says she has come to enjoy her holiday duties.

“I promise you that it’s not as depressing as you’d think … It’s not doom and gloom,” she says. Families will often set up trees in the hospital rooms and deliver presents, allowing patients to enjoy the day without too much holiday hubbub.

And Graves insists she’s no Grinch.

“Oh, my goodness, no. I’m a big Christmas person,” she says. While she doesn’t have any children, Graves says she has a big family, most of whom are out of town.

“I feel like (the hospital) is my family, and I want to be with them on Christmas Day,” Graves says.

Eric Hand is a pharmacist at one of the four Walgreens drugstores open 24 hours a day in Tallahassee; his is located on the corner of John Knox Road and North Monroe Street.

“Each pharmacist is required to work one Christmas or Thanksgiving every three years,” Hand says. “On Christmas Day, we volunteer to either work that morning or afternoon shift.”

It’s usually pretty slow on Christmas, according to Hand. Those who decide to venture into Walgreens often require prescriptions called in from the emergency room. Sometimes, people who don’t have any family and are lonely will come in and wander around the store.

“I worked last Christmas, and it is a real hassle if your family is from out of town, like mine,” Hand says. “Even though we are compensated for holiday pay, it’s certainly not worth it if you cannot be with your loved ones.”

Tim Baxter is a native of Tallahassee and has been working in law enforcement for 28 years. As a lieutenant and watch commander with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office, he knows a thing or two about working during the Christmas season.

“It affects you when you are cannot spend Christmas with your friends and family,” Baxter says. “I hate being away from family, but you accept it because this is your job.”

Part of Baxter’s job includes supervising.

“I try to allow as many men and women (as possible) to work close to home and stop by their house on their lunch or dinner break,” Baxter says. “It may not always happen, but you work around it as best as you can.”

In fact, Baxter is scheduled to work this Christmas. Is he looking forward to it?

“My family and I adjust to my schedule,” he says. “We’ll just celebrate that night or the next morning.”

And then there are the folks who, for religious or other reasons, don’t “do” the traditional Christmas day activities.

Susan Glicksberg Hilton is a preschool teacher at Temple Israel Preschool on Mahan Drive. Every year, Hilton, her husband, Dean, and their two children, Elena, 14, and Kevin, 12, have a Christmas Eve tradition.

“We love to drive around and look at Christmas lights on Christmas Eve in Huntington Estates,” Hilton says.

On Christmas Day, the Hilton family opens presents in the morning and then heads off to eat lunch at China First on Capital Circle Southeast.

“We have been going to China First for the last five years or so,” Hilton says. “I love it because I don’t have to cook a regular Christmas dinner.” To top their day off, they go to the movie theater to watch a holiday-themed movie, such as the “Polar Express.”

Hilton was born and raised Jewish, and she did not experience what typical Christian families do during the actual Christmas Eve and Day.

“I have no memories of my parents preparing a traditional Christmas dinner since we were Jewish,” she says. Her husband was born in a Christian household, but he has no preference on how their family celebrates Christmas Day. The only requirement he wanted for his children were a tree, stockings and gifts.

“As a kid, Dean had the opportunity to experience the fun of hanging ornaments and opening presents,” Hilton says. “He wanted the same for Elena and Kevin.” Marrying a man who was not Jewish was not an issue for Hilton because her parents supported her.

“My husband is not religious, so it made things easier how we raised our children and celebrated holidays,” Hilton says. “Nothing in our house has a religious undertone during the Christmas season.”

Hilton also celebrates her Jewish heritage around this time of year.

“We celebrate the eight nights of Hanukkah, light the menorah, play dreidel and eat latkes,” she says. “One year, we were celebrating both Christmas and Hanukkah because it coincided.”

Hilton offers many interesting stories about spending past Christmas days with her family.

“One year, we went for Chinese and saw our rabbi there,” she says. “I got the idea to eat out at a Chinese restaurant from Atlanta. There is a large Jewish population there, and that’s the only type of restaurant that is open.”

When asked how her children perceive the differences between Christmas and Hanukkah, Hilton says, “My kids know the whole story about Christmas, but we don’t celebrate it.” She maintains, “It works for us. It is not confusing. When they are older, they can make decisions as to what they want to believe.”

Hilton believes that most people’s holiday traditions are the ones that they were raised with.

“I didn’t have any memories of Christmas, so I have built them as I raise my children,” she says. “I try to keep an open mind about things, including Christmas. My husband’s side of the family gives us the Christmas presents and my side sends us the Hanukkah gifts. Some of my kids’ friends get jealous of all of the gifts they receive.”

This holiday season, the Hiltons have decided to tone things down a bit.

“Things get too hectic and time-consuming,” Hilton says. “It will be interesting to see what I do this year.”

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