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Working on Christmas Day - how people combine their duties with family festivities

Published 23/12/2015

Rev Kathryn Viner of Malone Presbyterian Church
Rev Kathryn Viner of Malone Presbyterian Church
Precious time: Rev Kathryn Viner with husband Jonathan and children Noah and Isabella
Busy day: Europa Hotel front of house manager Andrew McNeill
Festive cheer: Andrew McNeill checks the tree at the Europa Hotel in Belfast city centre
Birthday girl: Kim Lenaghan
Offering support: Kathleen McShane

A manager at one of Belfast’s busiest hotels, a radio host playing all of our favourite tunes, a minister and a Marie Curie community nurse all have one thing in common... they will be clocking in on Christmas Day. They tell Stephanie Bell how they combine their duties with the family celebrations.

Most of us couldn't imagine leaving family, home and hearth to go out to work on Christmas Day, but every year teams of people sacrifice their special day to keep vital services going for the rest of us.

So while you are tucking into your turkey on Friday, spare a thought for the small armies of workers who will be leaving the comfort of their own homes to spend another day at the office.

We speak to four professionals for whom it will be business as usual on Christmas Day and ask how they manage both to celebrate and make up for the time at home which they miss out on.

'Dealing with people's lives is unpredictable'

Rev Kathryn Viner (36) from Belfast is minister of Malone Presbyterian Church and will conduct the family service on Christmas morning. She will be on call for her congregation for pastoral duties throughout the day. Kathryn, who is married to Jonathan (35), a school teacher, is mum to Isabella (5) and Noah (3). She says:

This is my second year in Malone conducting the Christmas service," she says. "I will have done all of my prep beforehand so I will leave the house half an hour before the service starts at 11am, which gives me plenty of time with the children opening presents.

"The children and Jonathan will come with me to the service and it is quite a celebration. I feel like I am hosting a big birthday party as there is always such a buzz about it.

"We sing carols, we sing Happy Birthday to Jesus and I will deliver a short message. Afterwards the children come up and show me all the presents they got from Santa.

"It is a short service of about half an hour to 45 minutes, and afterwards Jonathan and the children will join me at the door to wish everyone a happy Christmas.

"It is brilliant and it is a chance to celebrate what Christmas is about; everyone is in great form.

"I have a wonderful mum who does the best Christmas dinner ever which I wouldn't even try to beat.

"We go to her house in the afternoon for our dinner, then I will host everyone on Boxing Day.

"Unfortunately, because of my role as minister we don't get to visit Jonathan's family in England over Christmas, which is not ideal for him, as he doesn't get to see his family during the Christmas period.

"I am on call all day in case there is an emergency and I would be very conscious that I might have to go out.

"The reality of my job is that you are dealing with the full spectrum of life, which can be very unpredictable. I might also have to do hospital visits and if I do then I bring the children with me.

"When I was growing up my mum was a midwife and she was on call every other Christmas Day and I would have gone with her if she was called out. I don't feel it interrupted my experience of Christmas as a child and my own children are used to my work now.

"I think as long as they are part of it and they are with me, it is okay. I feel blessed in that way.

"After visiting my parents house we will go home and get the children to bed and then, hopefully, I will get to put my feet up and watch the Christmas specials on TV."

‘I will miss my niece coming round the most’

Andrew McNeill will be working to help ensure that hundreds of people have a special Christmas Day while sacrificing his own festivities to carry out his duties as Front of House manager in Belfast’s Europa Hotel. The Belfast man loves Christmas with his family but, as a single man with no children, he says he has no problem giving up his day to work and allow colleagues with young families the chance to spend their day at home. Andrew (33) lives with his parents, who arrange their Christmas to suit his working hours. The family, who traditionally have dinner around 3pm, will delay their meal until 6pm so that Andrew can be there to join in. He says: I really love Christmas and normally the whole family - my parents, aunt, brother, sister and little five-year-old niece - will be there for Christmas dinner.

"We usually eat around 3pm after opening our presents, but now the family will sit down to dinner later because I am working. Everybody is happy to do it and I don't mind having to work on Christmas Day. We have about 200-300 people booked into the hotel for Christmas lunch and it usually kicks-off around midday.

"It is all very well organised and goes like clockwork.

"We also have people who book in on Christmas Eve to spend Christmas at the hotel - many of them are groups of elderly people and we have a lot of the same people who come back every year. We have got to know them and they like that as they know they will have a good time.

"Many of them are also booked in on Christmas night so it is a busy day for us.

"The thing I will miss most is when my five-year-old niece comes round to share what Santa has brought her, but I will see her when I get home in the evening.

"Work will finish at 5pm, then I'll get home to open my presents, and we'll have dinner at about 6pm, followed by a family party.

I am off work on Boxing Day which for our family is day two of the celebrations, and we always go to my aunt's house for a big dinner. I will be exhausted but I will enjoy that."

'I expect the bubbly to pop as soon as I'm in'

Eat, drink and be merry is the motto of Radio Ulster's Kim Lenaghan, so it is little surprise that the bubbly personality says that working on Christmas Day is a joy. The presenter, who lives in Belfast with partner Jim Ferrie (55), a musican and chemical engineer, hosts The Foodie on Sunday lunchtimes as well as two weekend morning radio shows. Her show Kim's Twinkling Christmas will be on from 9-11am on Radio Ulster.She says:

I love working on Christmas Day, it is such a brilliant thing to do. I don't think there is anything in the world that makes me feel more festive than sharing everyone else's Christmas.

People send messages about their turkey and sprouts and what gifts they got from Santa. Meanwhile, I play requests and Christmas tunes, and it is fabulous. It gets me ready for my own Christmas Day.

My birthday is on Christmas Eve, when I will celebrate my 55th birthday - but it is usually very quiet because I am working on Christmas morning.

When I get home from work on Christmas Day, Jim is usually on standby with the bubbly and I expect to hear a cork popping as I come through the door. He doesn't start the dinner preparations as that is not his forte. I am a real foodie and there is no way I am letting anyone else into my kitchen.

I will start cooking dinner and will have a lot of things done the night before.

Last year we had goose and it was great, but I missed my turkey sandwiches on Boxing Day - so this year it will be a traditional turkey with all the trimmings.

We will probably eat around 4pm and then sit in front of the television and watch programmes like Strictly and Downton Abbey. I'm working again on Boxing Day so it will be a quiet Christmas with just me, Jim and our dog Ben.

Again on Boxing Day it is an early morning show and when I come home I have the same brunch every year, Eggs Benedict, which is a real favourite of mine. We have it with our own cocktail poinsettia which is Prosecco, Cointreau and cranberry juice which is delicious.

I really do love working on Christmas Day, it is one of my favourite days to go in, and it does help make Christmas special for me."

'Working on Christmas Day is rewarding'

Kathleen McShane is a community nurse with Marie Curie who will be on duty on Christmas Day. Kathleen (57) is married to Michael (60), a service manager, and she has three grown-up sons who are all married - Steven (38), Darren (34) and Gavin (29). She also has two grandchildren. She says:

I work in District nursing and intend to retire next year which is why I started to work with Marie Curie two years ago. I choose to work on Christmas Day because I don't have any young children now and I am going to my son's for Christmas dinner.

I am working from 8am until 1pm which means my husband will be in the house on his own for a good part of the day. He will probably go between our three boys and visit them.

It will be very rewarding going out to people who are less fortunate than myself on Christmas Day.

Some of the people I will be visiting will be terminally ill. It is my role to offer symptom management and pain relief, and support the families for whom Christmas is a very vulnerable time.

People get very sad because for many of them it could be their last Christmas with their loved ones and, although you are very much a visitor to their home, it is lovely to be there for them.

As much as I love my own family, I feel that this is now something I can do because my boys are married and have left home.

It will be a different Christmas for me, but I still get to spend time with my family and will be hosting Boxing Day dinner at my house. I think it is good for the families of terminally ill people to be able to have their loved one home at Christmas and know they have that back-up and support, even on Christmas Day.

It gives them a sense of contentment.

If I didn't go out and work on Christmas Day, I would probably just be sitting at home eating sweets - at least I will be out doing some good."

Belfast Telegraph

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