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Angels of Christmas
For many, Christmas is a time for sharing with family, spent sitting around the fireplace or Christmas tree, enjoying the peace and quiet company of those who matter to us the most.
However, for many frontline workers in Delta, Christmas Day is just another day on the job.
While most Deltans are enjoying their turkey dinner or tucking those last presents under the Christmas tree, nurses are watching over the sick, police officers are taking dangerous impaired drivers off the road, and firefighters are ensuring that Christmas candles don't consume the entire house.
Working Christmas comes with the territory for frontline workers, and nobody knows that better than Perla Lonogen, a nurse at Delta Hospital for 11 years.
"Working as a nurse over the years I've come to understand that nurses' lives revolve around the schedules, and as a shift worker there's no guarantee you'll be off for every special occasion," she says.
Lonogen has two small children aged nine and seven who understand mom sometimes has to work on Christmas.
"I will tell them Santa is still going to come down the chimney and bring the presents while they're sleeping and while mom is at work helping others."
When she comes home in the morning, exhausted though she might be, she still sits and opens presents with her children.
"It's tiring but that's the job I'm in as a nurse and also as a mother," she says. "It's a sacrifice."
Forced into people's lives
Acting Lt. Gary Nylund, a Delta firefighter for the past 18 years, says he knows most public service workers pick their holidays in January and Christmas is usually the first one to go, depending on how old that person's children are.
"So, at the very beginning when you have babies and two- and three- and five-year-olds, you're picking Christmas first and that's it."
Now that Nylund's kids are nearly adults, he doesn't mind working Christmas and leaves the date open for the younger guys. Sooner or later, everybody ends up working Christmas Eve or Day.
Const. Sarah Swallow, a Delta police officer since 2006 and a dispatcher with the department since 2002, says she's used to the fact she has to work on Christmas and like most first responders she tries to make the best of it.
But this year she's looking forward to a Christmas off. Swallow is married to a Delta police officer and they have an 18-month-old son together.
It may be a holy night, but it's not always silent.
Swallow says there's always a lot of alcohol consumption over Christmas and that usually results in accidents. And while getting together with family is a favourite part of Christmas, sometimes police are called to resolve disputes.
"We try not to arrest people over Christmas for something they'll be held for, but any call that you go to you do feel sad that's how you're meeting people or that's how you're seeing people.
"We're all sort of forced into people's lives. We're not so much called into people's lives for good reasons," says Swallow, adding it's the nature of the job.
'We have each other'
Working Christmas Eve sometimes means missing dinner with the family. For the firefighters, they try and work around the situation.
Nylund says they'll cook up a Christmas turkey dinner at the firehall.
"It is difficult, but I think it would be a lot more difficult if you were by yourself stuck in an office somewhere. But we have each other," says Nylund, referring to the fact firefighters always work in teams and can keep one another company.
They just have to hope their meal isn't interrupted by a call. But even on Christmas, accidents happen.
Nylund says some Christmases are uneventful, but others can be a nonstop rush.
"Anytime when you have people getting together, eating a lot of food and having a few glasses of wine and then possibly having to get home that night, there's going to be some problems."
The department doesn't get a lot of calls for fires on Christmas, but as first responders they always have to ready for medical emergencies, car accidents, and other issues.
Firefighters who work the day of Dec. 24 get to go home at 6 p.m. But for the night shift crew, they're on from 6 p.m. until 8 a.m., a 14-hour slog during which time most children are nestled in their beds with visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads.
By the time a firefighter gets home, the kids have already torn open the presents. As a veteran, Nylund understands how disappointing this can be, which is why he has no problem covering off for the younger parents in the department.
"What we would do is open them up the night before. You've got to try and adapt to the situation. We wanted to take our time and have a nice time around the Christmas tree. And we did, and you know what, it wasn't so bad."
Lonogen says it's also important to think about the patients in the hospital.
"That's what I want to explain to my kids, that there are people in the hospital who cannot be home on Christmas because they are sick."
As part of an attempt to give some Christmas cheer to patients, Lonogen says nurses will put on Santa hats and go around singing carols and bringing Christmas food.
"After all, the spirit of Christmas is giving, helping, and sacrificing, not only for yourself but for others."
Nylund says he's not sure whether most folks are aware that first responders are out there waiting to help them on Christmas should something go wrong, but he says they're always grateful when they show up.
"There's not a Christmas that goes by around the firehall that people don't stop and drop off cookies and pie. But I don't know if they know we're there for 14 hours. They just know we're there if we're needed."
Swallow says she doesn't actually mind working Christmas all that much.
"This is going to sound really warm and fuzzy, I know. But when you're working that night shift right into Christmas morning and you know you're getting to about four in the morning and the kids are going to start waking up and opening gifts… you're driving around on the streets and the streets are usually really quiet and everybody's Christmas lights are on.
"You feel like you're sort of a silent sentry keeping watch over things so other people can just relax and enjoy their Christmas."
However, the peace and quiet doesn't last.
"It slows down for a bit, usually from early Christmas morning to mid afternoon," she says. "And then life kicks up again and people keep going."