Celebrating Christmas usually starts at the beginning of December — the round of parties, concert performances, light shows and special treats we indulge in.
But on Christmas Day we share a sense of community like no other. For most of us it’s a holiday — a free day from work and service-related obligations to celebrate with family and cohorts.
Yet not everyone gets to crash on the couch and watch holiday movies after eating a sumptuous meal that could feed a small village.
Emergency responders, medical personnel, police officers, pilots, chefs, pharmacists and newscasters are just some of the people who labour to keep vital services running throughout the holiday weekend.
The Gazette spoke with a few about what it’s like to work through the one holiday weekend most people want off. Here are some of the people who keep the city on track while facing a few challenges and gaining fulfilment.
Puneet Gupta, Sheldon Arnst and Yannick Leveille
St. Albert Apple Cab Drivers
It may be Christmas Day, but there is no rest for taxi drivers. Apple Cap owner-dispatcher-driver Puneet Gupta averages about 30 calls on Christmas Day. People use cabs to go to church, visit family, arrange a liquor run, pick up cigarettes, go to a hospital or stop at pharmacies. Everyone has a different story.
“Sometimes people party too much on Christmas Eve and they call us to drive them so they can pick up their car,” said Gupta.
Originally from India, he worked as a taxi driver on and off since 2014 and by 2019 was the owner of St. Albert Cab. However, taking on ownership also meant working 24-7.
But there is no shortage of brightly lit holiday decorations in front of his home which also doubles as the office.
“In India we celebrate everything. Life is too short, and my kids like it,” he said pointing to Santa’s mischievous elf who sits on the chandelier and plays tricks on the children.
Joining Gupta on the road on Christmas Day is Sheldon Arnst, a former animator who worked in Asia for 30 years, and Yannick Leveille, a former construction worker from Laval, Quebec. Both Arnst and Leveille are single and happy to make a few extra dollars during the holidays.
While Gupta will finish the day with a hearty meal of butter chicken, shahi paneer and Indian sweets, Arnst and Leveille both will indulge themselves in Wife Saver, a versatile Christmas morning casserole using soft bread, ham, sharp cheddar, seasoned eggs and topped with corn flakes and oven baked.
Arnst, who lives and cares for his mother, takes her to church Christmas Eve and she returns the favour on Christmas Day with a mouth-watering prime rib, potatoes, veggies and gluten-free Yorkshire pudding.
Leveille, who doesn’t remember the last time he took holidays, will take on the early shift and that means waking up around 4 a.m. and being on the road an hour later.
And while Christmas tips are always appreciated, “New Year’s tips are better,” he says with a smile. So, expect to see the three amigos working New Year’s Eve.
Gas Station Cashier
Campbell Park Chevron’s On the Run, Curial Drive
As Karzan Mahmoodpour goes through his morning shift from 6:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at Campbell Park Chevron’s On the Run, he’ll be looking over the roster to see who takes his place. As a cashier, his job entails handling cash, stacking shelves, cleaning and changing gas prices as they fluctuate.
Although one normally expects gas stations to be quiet, any number of travellers will stop by: truck drivers needing snacks; locals dropping by for a coffee and a chat; as well as emergency services needing to refuel.
“Christmas is not a big holiday for us and so when they asked if I’d work, I said sure,” said Mahmoodpour whose family is Muslim. A comparable celebration to Christmas is Eid al-Fitr, a feast day that marks the end of Ramadan, a month-long time of fasting and spiritual reflection.
While turkey is the traditional Christmas dish, Mahmoodpour’s family celebrates Eid al-Fitr with roast chicken, red rice, biryani and ghormeh sabzi, a Persian herb stew with beef.
The family is originally from Iran, however prior to immigrating to Canada, they moved to Turkey where Mahmoodpour was born. As a pre-kindergarten child, his family moved to Canada in 2006 and eventually settled in Saskatchewan.
“I still remember a teacher telling me stuff and I was thinking ‘I don’t understand a word you’re saying.’ I learned English watching Teletubbies and Bugs Bunny,” he said.
Currently, Mahmoodpour is taking computer classes through the University of Lethbridge in a program that accepted his Saskatchewan high school credits.
“I want to go into video game design. In my free time, I make random stuff.”
In summing up his job as cashier, the budding video game designer said, “The work is fun. The people are cool and the owners are local, and they treat you pretty good. They come in, meet us. And then there are other people and customers I like seeing every day.”
Front Desk Agent
Holiday Inn Express & Suites, St. Albert Trail
For Miranda Fritzler, Christmas will be more subdued than past years. She just started working at Holiday Inn on Dec. 6. Although the St. Albert resident cut her teeth working at Hampton Inn & Suites, she's the newbie and landed Christmas Day’s evening shift.
Contrary to the hustle and bustle portrayed in holiday movies, hotels in the area tend to be very quiet during Christmas. Despite fewer registrations, guest requests such as extra towels for the pool or directions to the nearest open restaurant could be asked and agents are expected to fill them.
Fritzler, who enjoys helping people, entered the hospitality business more than eight years ago working as a server at fast food outlets, pubs, restaurants and upscale receptions.
“When you work as a server, you’re not guaranteed full-time hours. I saw more opportunity and stability in the hotel industry. I wanted a career where I could grow,” she said.
She expects some arrivals just before Christmas and in between assisting guests, she’ll fill her eight-hour shift cleaning, organizing and viewing hospitality training videos.
“My job is attending to everyone and making sure everyone’s holiday is good.”
In past years, Fritzler and her family enjoyed a different meal every year that varied from turkey and ham to good old-fashioned meatloaf.
“It all depends on the year and what my mother wants to make.”
Afterwards, the tightly knit family enjoys a good glass of wine and plays board games such as Monopoly. However, these card sharks also play friendly games ranging from Play Nine and Uno to Skip Bo and Golf Cards.
“My family can be competitive. But we’d rather spend time with loved ones than watch a movie. You never know what can happen. Life is short. That’s what Christmas means to me — spend it with loved ones.”
Food Supervisor and Server
Tandoori Fuzion, St. Albert Trail
One of the few restaurants open Christmas Day is Tandoori Fuzion, a high-end privately owned venue serving East Indian cuisine steeped in curries and exotic flavours.
Shubham Mahajan, Tandoori Fuzions’s food supervisor, arrived in St. Albert shortly before December 2022.
“This is my second Christmas here. It is special. All my family is in India. I’m here by myself so I like working. Over here, this is my family,” said Mahajan pointing to the kitchen.
The soft-spoken food supervisor was raised in Punjab, a state in Northern India that borders Pakistan and is the heart of India’s Sikh community. However, his polite demeanour masks the heart of an adventurer.
“I came to Canada because I wanted to explore new places. The weather is good and there are many job opportunities,” Mahanjan said.
Before venturing out west, he was enrolled in Conestoga College’s one-year Hotel Management program in Kitchener, Ontario. Among many tips to succeed in the industry, the program emphasized anticipating guests’ needs.
“We should be open to new challenges and experiences and know ahead of time what the customer wants. When they come in here, we don’t know what they’ve been through in the past, and we need to give them the best service possible.”
A large part of his job is making sure food is presentable while guests relax at their table listening to Bollywood music.
If Mahanjan was back in India, he would take part in Diwali: Festival of Lights, a celebration equally important to the population as Christmas is to Christians. Diwali takes place in mid-November and symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Families celebrate by cleaning the house and giving gifts.
At Christmas, Tandoori Fuzion usually welcomes guests of different ethnic persuasions and take-out is a popular feature.
“People come in and enjoy food with their family. Some even come in wearing Santa Claus hats and that is good. We see people spending time with family. It’s good to connect with family.”