Padraig Belton   26 December 2017

Christmas working

Thomas Buckland (far left) has worked in the Harrods' Santa's Grotto - whose adverts are filmed in summer 

While some of us look forward to a well-earned break over the holiday season - for many it's a chance to earn some extra money, while others have no choice but to work. And the people picking up the slack are often migrant workers, those whose friends and family are far away.

More than a million people in the UK work on Christmas Day alone, says the Office of National Statistics

That number includes 97,000 nurses and 180,000 midwives, as well as people working in emergency services, call centres, and restaurants and hotels.

But working might not necessarily be the worst experience.  

It might even mean workplace bonding, and friendships, say people who have done it. 

"Well, my company usually orders a festive Christmas lunch for those who are working," says Anastasia Mykhalchuk, who is from Ukraine, and now works in Poland doing customer support for Uber. "I kind of volunteered to work those days, as I am not Catholic.  And then I'll go home for the Orthodox one," she says. 

"But you really want to spend Orthodox Christmas with your family," she adds.  

Meanwhile in hospitals, "people wear hats," observes Hannah Schneiders, a junior doctor, "especially on paediatrics". 

"People bring in so much food. Crackers are indeed often involved, and Father Christmas comes round for patients and sometimes staff," adds Caroline Knight, another young doctor. 

"Boxing Day, as with anywhere, is a little less jolly but usually involves mopping up leftover food," she says. 

Camaraderie at the bagel booth 

"Yeah, it was pretty chilled and cheerful. Nobody wanted to be there but we all needed money," Alice Dowhyj said about working on Christmas Eve at the Bagel Factory in Manchester's Piccadilly Station.

Alice Dowhyi

Alice Dowhyi worked in a fast food outlet at Manchester Piccadilly railway station on Christmas Eve. 

"I started either at 4:30 or 6.30am as it was classed as a normal weekday," she said.  "Our team was pretty laid back anyway, so it helped that we could joke about."  

And, she added: "We were lucky enough to have control of the iPod in the back so not subjected to the same rubbish tunes on repeat."

Christmas Eve is the main night of celebration for many people from Ukraine, Russia and Poland. 

Poles working in Belfast have sometimes called in sick on Christmas Eve to be able to celebrate the more important holiday, Wigilia, says Marta Kempny, a Polish anthropologist at Queen's University Belfast. 

The busiest time of the year 

And work might become busier at Christmas. 

Craig Drake worked in a bike shop in Lancashire, "mostly building kids' bikes for Christmas. Mountains of them." 

He is now a professional cyclist, living in France. 

Taking a break to go out training on Christmas Day, he says: "As I set off I'd see kids out on the bikes I'd spent the last month building."

"The only issue was delivering them," adds Mr Drake. "The bike shop owner had a tiny custard-yellow old Bedford van. He was comfortably 6ft-plus, and I was 6'4", so it was a squeeze," he laughs.

Craig Drake

Craig, who lives in France, has spent Christmases building bikes for children. 

Catherine Byron, now an independent publisher in Cheshire, didn't so much mind working on Christmas. 

Formerly cabin crew with an airline, she "got a call once on Christmas Eve to freelance as crew on Boxing Day and then spend 10 days in the Seychelles. Nice work if you can get it," she says. 

Free pies and Lady Gaga 

Sometimes there are perks for working over the holidays.

William Hall worked in Fortnum & Mason, one of London's oldest and most upmarket department stores, one year. He says he worked "very hard for very little money, but there were perks like the staff shop". 

These included "Christmas puddings a year old for 50p, but quite edible," and "10p for unsold cake slices. And pies!" 

Meanwhile friends in the fashion buyers' office shared around Christmas cards from pop star Lady Gaga.

Fired at Christmas 

Eleanor Vesey-Thompson had a slightly less glamorous experience, and lost her job on a Christmas she had planned to work through as a waitress. 

To be fair, she points out, the restaurant "had basically gone bankrupt" at its busiest time of the year. 

"We were all set with shifts for the coming next busy 10 days, and I was even happy to work Christmas Day afternoon," she says. 

"I went into work on the 23rd for the night shift, and as I finished my shift was told that the restaurant was closing down immediately and everyone was let go. 

"I have no idea what happened to the poor people who had Christmas lunch booked," she says.

Worker in a cafe

If you don't celebrate Christmas - the chance for some extra work is especially welcome. Picture: Joanna Boj on Unsplash

When Christmas isn't really Christmas

And there are some employees who find themselves working at Christmas while other people are celebrating very different times of the year. 

Thomas Buckland, who worked in Santa's Grotto at Harrods, the iconic London department store, says their Christmas adverts are filmed in summer, with fake snow. 

Meanwhile in Cardiff, Nicki Tudor worked in a local department store "who prided themselves on opening the Christmas shop on the same day as Harrods. In July." 

She adds: "Cue five months of Douglas The Fir singing Christmas songs right next to my concession stand, while people yelled at me that it wasn't Christmas yet."  

At least Shane Conneely, working in a Brown Thomas concession in Dublin, was spared for slightly longer.  

"The Christmas shop would be open on August 30th with an atonal reindeer beeping out Christmas carols on the Lady Day of summer," he says. 

So if you find yourself working this Christmas, at least you're not doing that.