The Christmas tree is trimmed, gifts purchased, and extra ingredients to cook a special holiday meal are stocked in the pantry. Judging by the hustle and bustle in stores the last few days before Christmas, St. Albertans were keen to recreate the nostalgia we associate with the holiday.
Many have been stressed out by the pandemic’s roller-coaster ride, and desire to re-establish those special connections with family and friends. Many others won't get the chance to celebrate today, as they'll be working to keep our community's wheels running smoothly.
Nurses, doctors, paramedics, pharmacists, police officers, and pilots fill shifts. Taxi drivers, tow-truck drivers, plumbers, and electricians are on call. Let’s not forget help-line workers, hotel cooks, the clergy, news anchors, and radio disc jockeys. Surprisingly, the list is quite lengthy.
The Gazette spoke to four individuals who will be working on Christmas Day. We would like to pay tribute to their generous spirits. These are their stories:
Medical Device Processing Technician, Sturgeon Hospital
Medeleine Gabasa is a certified medical device reprocessing technician who has worked at the Sturgeon Hospital for nine years. Her base is the medical device processing centre, a little known but critical component for operating a hospital safely.
Located in the hospital’s basement, the centre is responsible for cleaning, decontaminating, sterilizing, assembling, marshalling, and computer tracking unclean instruments handled in the operating theatres, emergency station, and endoscopy.
“All my family is working Christmas Day this year and I decided to work it, too,” said Gabasa, who is originally from the Philippines. She is on the 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. shift.
“Back home I was a nurse and I do love the OR and being able to handle different instruments. And talking with the nurses is very cool. We don’t have a lot of these instruments at home,” she explained.
Sponsored by her mother, Gabasa left the Philippines in large part due to the nursing profession’s poverty-level wages there.
“Life can be hard after graduation. This salary is so little [there], and you can’t help your family. A lot of nurses end up in the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Canada. Everything is so hard there.”
She is currently enrolled in a bridging program through Calgary’s Mount Royal College to certify as an accredited registered nurse.
Christmas festivities this year are a three-generational affair since Gabasa, her mother, brother, sister-in-law and Peyton, her three-year old nephew, live under the same roof.
Twinkling lights have been strung, a tree decorated, and a stocking hung for Peyton. In the Filipino tradition, a big Christmas dinner celebrating the birth of baby Jesus is held Dec. 24 at midnight, often going into the wee hours of Dec. 25.
“Back home we went to mass on Dec. 25. Mass was held every hour and you could go any time. And way back you could have fireworks in your backyard. You could hear neighbours and there was a lot of Christmas music all over.”
Living in north Edmonton, the Gabasa family started cooking the Christmas feast of spaghetti, fried chicken, ham, rice, and crème caramel for dessert on Dec. 23. Christmas Eve festivities started with mass, followed by a midnight feast.
When asked if Gabasa had anything to say to readers, the soft-spoken technician said, “I hope you can spend the time with family and friends. And wash your hands.”
Pet Attendant, Barker’s Pet Motel
Alysha Richard is a second-year animal health student at NAIT. She uses her knowledge and passion for animals to care for them at Barker’s Pet Motel, a service that offers short- and long-term boardings for dogs, cats, and birds.
“I really like helping animals. They can’t speak. They don’t have a voice. I like to advocate for them as much as I can,” said Richard, whose own dog Arlo is a five-year-old Shitsu-poodle mix.
She has worked at Barkers for six years and doesn’t view her job as work.
“I love dogs. Coming to work is not stressful. It’s more of a stress reliever. I’m always happy to be here. I love dogs of all kinds, all sizes.”
She volunteered to work the first shift from 7 a.m. to noon on Christmas Day. During this shift, pets are fed breakfast and escorted outdoors for fresh air and playtime while individual pens are cleaned.
“The dogs need Christmas as much as we do. I want them to feel good on Christmas. It’s such a joyful day. I want to give them some happiness. And it makes me feel good to have dog time in the morning. They’re such good companion animals and devoted to humans. They’re so loving to their owners but accepting of other people. They’re calming animals, and they're always happy.”
This year Christmas celebrations for Richard will be small. They include mom, dad, and two sisters.
“We’re going to have turkey and because we’re Ukrainian we’re having perogies, nalysnyky [crepes], and cornmeal.”
The family’s 10-foot tree sits elegantly under a vaulted ceiling decorated in a red and gold theme.
“We buy gifts for everyone. One year we wrapped little prizes in Saran Wrap, and we wore mittens to get as much open in a certain amount of time. It was super fun and it got really competitive.
“I like the holidays because it brings everyone together. It’s a loving holiday. You show appreciation to everyone who is close to you.”
Lieut. Fred Hollands
Firefighter, Fire Hall No. 3, Giroux Road
For 29 years Lieut. Fred Hollands has worked in emergency services in varying capacities as an ambulance driver, emergency medical technician, paramedic, and firefighter. About two-thirds of those Christmases have been spent at a fire hall.
“It’s part of our rotation. We work on an eight-day cycle,” said Hollands, who was hired by the City of St. Albert in 2004. “St. Albert had a good reputation as an advanced and integrated department with firefighters and paramedics. And it had a good reputation for work-life balance and career longevity.”
He explains calls on Christmas Day are fewer, but have more impact on first responders.
“Calls are a little bit slower, but the nature of the calls are worse. They’re random — calls about mental health, anxiety, depression, or even someone feeling suicidal. Or it can be heart attacks, strokes. Maybe they have high blood pressure, or it could be overindulgence. One of the things we see less of is drunk driving. That’s an improvement.”
The father of two remembers pre-COVID Christmases at the station when families would drop by.
“Now it’s more relaxing. There’s a normal brunch and we might watch a movie,” he explained, noting his shift runs from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Hollands and his wife Jenell Thomas and children Karleigh, 20, and Brett, 17, have planned a quiet family dinner for after his shift, with turkey and traditional trimmings.
“My wife makes terrific ginger cookies and apple pie.” After the big meal, it’s an evening of competitive board games.
In the Hollands-Thomas family, preparations for the holiday season start at the end of November.
“We have Christmas lights in the front and the back yard. We have a seven-foot tree in our living room. It’s filled with ornaments. We have a lot of ornaments and a collection of nutcrackers, Christmas pictures, and snowflakes. The whole family decorates the tree, and the kids take turns putting the angel on the top.”
There is a pickle ornament hidden in the tree and the one to find it opens the first gift.
“We let the kids open one present on Christmas Eve. Since the kids’ sleep patterns have changed, I don’t know if they want to get up early and open presents. And on Christmas Eve we read ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. And we still leave a cookie and milk for Santa.”
As an individual who often works Christmas, Hollands has an appreciation for others who work to keep life going smoothly for everyone.
“It helps to know people work together to keep the lights on.”
As a firefighter, he also delivers a safety conscious message to the public.
“One is, don’t put cigarette butts in planters, and stay away from peat moss planters. Use appropriate ash trays. And the second thing is phone chargers. Keep them away from pillows and blankets. They can overheat. People can fall asleep, and they have become a source of ignition and fire.”
Concession attendant, Landmark Cinemas
Paul Kane High student Jordan McGeough, 17, loves her job serving the public at Landmark Cinemas.
“There’s always the expectation of meeting new people and regulars come in all the time. And my co-workers make it so much fun, you want to come to work,” said McGeough, a concession attendant.
It’s a job she has held since June 2020, and this year she volunteered to work a shift on Christmas Day, starting at noon.
“I get to have Christmas morning with my family, and I celebrate the afternoon with my co-workers, my second family,” she said.
In the pre-COVID era, upwards of 45 immediate and extended family members would gather for a potluck at her home on Christmas Eve.
“We didn’t see a lot of them throughout the year and Christmas was the one time we would get together,” said the bubbly young woman.
Last year following lockdown restrictions, her family took part in Google Meet and Zoom calls. This year, Christmas Day is a scaled-down gathering of her father’s family.
“It’s put a little kink in our usual plans, but we try to keep everyone safe. Everyone’s health is so important.”
An ongoing tradition McGeough follows is baking cookies with her grandma and delivering them to family members as part of a cookie exchange.
“We make a different recipe every year. One year we made 60 turtle cookies, and last year we made pumpkin spice cookies.”
But despite the flurry of decorations and tree-trimming, shopping, and food preparation, her favourite holiday event has little to do with material things.
“It’s about just being able to see my family. I like to spend time with my cousins, talk to them and hear their plans.”
For McGeough, Christmas Day has a different vibe than any other day of the year.
“The emotions are different. Everyone is happy and joyful. I hope everyone has a fantastic day — one that lifts the Christmas spirit. And that they have someone to share it with. That’s what Christmas is — having people around to celebrate it.”