I was in a convenience store last weekend, talking to the owners' daughter who can usually be found sitting at a small wooden desk at the foot of aisle two. She's 10 years old but has grown up fast in that little store. My neighborhood in Toronto isn't the safest, and she's seen her share of addicts and mentally-ill people come in and hassle her Chinese parents who try to respond with the few English words they know. But when the little girl's not in school, she doesn't have much choice but to be there. Her parents can't afford other staff and stay open past ten p.m., seven days a week. Yes, even Christmas.
Lots of people work during Christmas and other holidays. According to a 2010 study by communications company Skype, almost six million (roughly one in 10) Brits were at work on Christmas day -- and that was just a fraction of those who worked in days leading up to and after (23.3 million on Christmas Eve).
Convenience store owners stay open because it's the one day without competition from big-box stores. Taxi drivers, firefighters, restaurant owners, ambulance drivers, and nurses are among some of the people who typically work to provide services people need and want on December 25. According to Kyle Moffatt, director of communications for Canadian company Cineplex Entertainment, about a tenth of the 10,000 staff work on Christmas day.
The same is becoming more common in desk jobs in a world where "working nine to five" is an old axiom that no longer holds true. California-based tech start-up Egnyte released a study last December in which they surveyed over 500 business owners and found that 80 per cent of small business professionals planed to work over the holidays.
Leading up to holidays, so much talk centers around the stress of it all. It starts with the name ("Should the card say holidays or Christmas?"); then what gifts to buy ("Is anti-aging cream appropriate?"); how much to much to spend ("Will she know it was on sale?"); and, God forbid, the anxiety of having someone new in your life ("OMG is it too soon to ask him for Xmas dinner?").
These are all valid questions, but ones that are predicated on a homogeneous definition of the holiday season; one when people get days off work, gather around a big table to gorge and wear bows on their heads after ripping open presents. They are grand traditions (all of which I admit to). But instead of getting pre-holiday syndrome (PHS, which I also admit to), why not remember the fact that if any of the above are part of your holiday ritual, you're already ahead of the game?
The little girl at the store told me that her parents stay open on Christmas because someone might need something and everywhere else would be closed. I asked about presents and whether they took the morning off to open some. "Presents," she told me, sitting in her small plastic pink chair in front of her desk, "we don't really do." I asked if they celebrate Christmas at all, knowing her family is Christian. "Well," she said, "the other day we went to KFC."
The weekend before last, she and her parents had taken out the Colonel's chicken and brought it to the store for lunch. What made the occasion special -- a Christmas celebration rather than just regular take-out -- was that her mom ordered fries. "She never does that," the girl said, eyes sparkling. "Not even on my birthday."
So if you find yourself walking down the street like I did the other day, saying much too loudly into a cellphone that you hate the holidays, think of the basics that make Christmas good. Family. Days off. A feast, or simply, a side order of fries.