Working on the holidays is a drag, but some professions demand it. The RoundTable checked in with some Evanston mainstays to find out what it’s like to be on the clock for a major holiday.
Evanston Police and FIre Departments work every day of the year, but they are used to working on holidays and have the scheduling issues down.
Capt. Ryan Roeder of Fire House 2 explained that as a third-generation firefighter, working on holidays “comes with the territory.” He grew up with his father missing certain holidays, and his wife and children understand this is part of the job.
Each “house” within the Fire Department plans a party for all of the firefighter families before Christmas “as a way of showing appreciation to our spouses and children for what they endure,” said Roeder.
“After all, I have two families. I have my personal family and my work family. We make a big meal the day before so it’s all ready, and we hope it’s a slow day so they don’t have to eat without us,” he said.
If someone is scheduled to work a holiday they’d like to have off, it’s usually possible to trade with someone of the same rank. All trades are voluntary. The same applies to the Evanston Police Department.
EPD Sgt. Sophia Syed, on the force for 14 years, and Sgt. Anthony Correa, a 22-year veteran, are both scheduled to work Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day. Work volume on a holiday is affected by the day of the week and the weather.
“If the weather is bad, it might lead to less activity on the roads. But if people are staying home, families don’t always get along, so that could lead to more fighting. And people stay out later, so they tend to sleep in longer…so the day starts later,” Syed said.
Correa said that it’s a tough situation if they have a major event like a house fire because “all the community services like the Red Cross are dealing with skeleton crews, too, so delays are longer for getting people the resources they need.”
They also described how older officers are usually happy to switch with younger officers scheduled to work on Christmas, especially if those officers have young children at home.
Phyllis Russell has worked at Highland Park Hospital as a respiratory care manager in the NorthShore University HealthSystem for 45 years. She manages a team of 14.
This year they are reinstituting their departmental holiday party with games, food and presents.
She plans the schedules in advance and alternates the holidays; if one of her therapists has Christmas off this year, he or she will be scheduled to work it next year. But people are welcome to switch if someone else agrees. Some of her people have been doing this for years.
If it turns out that one of her therapists can’t get a trade worked out, she may very well do it herself. “I don’t mind. Holidays are special to people,” she said.
Hospitality and entertainment
On Christmas day, the restaurant Lao Sze Chuan, 1633 Orrington Ave., will open at 11 a.m. and close at 8:30 p.m. The majority of staff do not celebrate the holiday, so scheduling is not an issue.
“It’s the busiest day of the year,” said restaurant manager Jay Javier. “By 4 p.m., It will be crazy here until closing.”
AMC Evanston 12, 1715 Maple Ave., will be open as well.
Down the street from the movie theater Is the Hilton Garden Inn NorthShore Chicago/Evanston, 1818 Maple Ave. Duane Wheat, manager of the front office, said his staff realizes they are in the hospitality business and they are expected to work on holidays. They ask for volunteers initially, but will assign work “based on the needs of the hotel.”
Wheat said the feeling is “very festive and both guests and employees are generally in a good mood. Every year is different. And yes, people show up at the last minute. It’s best to be flexible.”
In that same corner of Evanston is Dogtopia of Downtown Evanston, 900 Clark St., a doggie daycare and boarding resource. Owner and chief canine officer Sarah Lewis said Dogtopia will have at least 40 dogs boarding this Christmas.
About six of her 25 employees will be on duty to feed, tend to and supervise three different indoor play environments based on the size and activity level of the dog. The staff alternates holidays, so scheduling isn’t a big deal, according to Lewis.
Another place providing care every day of the year is the Evanston Animal Shelter, 2310 Oakton St. and 611 South Blvd. Executive Director Vicky Pasenko starts recruiting volunteers for major holidays in advance with a sign-up sheet.
“People who volunteer on Christmas typically find they benefit as much as the animals. It’s very therapeutic,” said Pasenko. Not everyone has a family to go to or one they get along with, and not everyone celebrates Christmas.
Hiding in plain sight are the Christian clergy. The RoundTable spoke to Rev. Dr. Michael Nabors of Second Baptist Church, 1717 Benson Ave., and Pastor Grace Imathiu of First United Methodist Church, 516 Church St. (Nabors also writes a column for the RoundTable.)
Since Covid, Second Baptist has live-streamed every service. With the increasing rates of respiratory illnesses and flu, they are encouraging people to attend Christmas Day services from home. The service will be brief, focusing primarily on the choir singing and his sermon. Nabors said, “Everyone who works that day has volunteered. And since Christmas is on Sunday this year, everyone gets a four-day weekend.”
Nabors takes particular joy out of working on his sermon and visiting parishioners during the holidays. “I don’t consider what I do as a typical vocation. I consider it a calling.”
At First United Methodist, there are four services scheduled on Christmas Eve and a one-hour service on Christmas Day. Pastor Imathiu said she will take the week after Christmas off to decompress and be with her family, who often take a back seat during the holidays.
Imathiu’s Christmas sermon will discuss how the Christmas story is essentially a story about a housing crisis, which is relevant to contemporary events closer to home.
“As part of the Interfaith Action of Evanston, our church will serve as an emergency homeless shelter for three weeks starting on Dec. 25. It’s an emotionally challenging time for many people in our community, but we want people on the edges of life to know they can count on us,” said Imathiu.