Saturday, November 23, 2013

Who Works on a Holiday?

The holiday season is upon us. A season of love and charity. A season of kindness.

So what's up with so many hateful posts on social media about employees having to work on a holiday, meaning, of course, Thanksgiving and Christmas. 

Nobody really gets riled up about employees having to work on Valentine's Day, the Fourth of July or Veteran’s Day, do they? Not that worked up, anyway. Not enough to try to shame people into staying home. 

When I was young, I worked as a veterinarian’s assistant, dishwasher, and waitress. In those jobs, I worked the holidays, and although I sometimes felt disappointed to miss a family gathering, I was grateful for the extra hours that holidays brought.

I worked Thanksgiving as an electrician’s apprentice (we worked a huge shutdown while the mill was closed for the holiday) and as a foster parent in my thirties and forties, I ferried children back and forth to their birth parent’s homes in Portland, Salem, and around Clackamas county so they could attend their family event even when it meant missing some or all of my own.

It’s na├»ve to believe that if only stores closed, everyone could be home with their family having a meaningful time. Who is everyone?

Everyone means all the employees, I guess, except the food service workers, foster parents, child welfare workers, movie theatre workers, gas station attendants, animal caretakers, veterinarians, electrical power crews, pilots and flight crews, police and fire responders, EMT and hospital personal. Everyone must not count the jailers, dog walkers, funeral workers, Armed Services personnel, toll booth ticket takers and so on, and so on. 

The world does not stop because of a designated holiday. Life, and death, and many diverse activities, including, yes, shopping, go on. Those who work in the businesses that support holiday activities will work for those who partake in activities on those days. Some of those employees will resent working, some of them will be neutral about it, and some of them will be grateful for the hours.

To expect that workers are entitled to that particular day off in a business that depends on holiday activity to thrive is as ludicrous as someone expecting accounting firms to give accountants time off during tax season, or school districts providing teachers vacations during the school year. If an employer chooses to, good for them, but to demand they do is ridiculous.

If you don’t want to support businesses that operate on any given day, fine, don’t patronize them. But don’t expect me to join you in trying to shame them for operating as a business.

I enjoy the frenzy of holiday shopping, or going out for dessert on a holiday evening, or hitting a movie theater after the turkey has settled. And my venturing out into the world on a day you’ve designated sacred, doesn’t make me wrong. You don't get to be the arbiter of what is sacred for anyone but yourself.

For me, every day we’re alive is sacred. Every day is a good day to shop the companies that treat people well and pay them a decent wage, and a good day to boycott the ones that don’t.

Ministers, priests, and comforters of all kinds work on holidays. Funeral directors still arrange to pick up bodies of those we love, social workers still investigate child abuse, coffee shop workers still prepare coffee. We are human beings and live rich, complex lives. Society seldom stands still. 

We could argue it should. There are moments so important that we ought stop in our tracks and reflect. There are moments worthy of a caesura in speech and deed. Let that be when we hear of another person's suffering. When someone dies. When a new infant is born. Let us all stop a moment and praise when some other human being's heart pulses a little more open in love. 

Let's not beat each other up because somebody shopped or profited or worked on the "wrong" day. We are, all of us, more than such arbitrary measure.

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