WATERVILLE — Even Santa Claus’ elves get to take a break on Christmas Day, but for plenty of people, it’s just another day on the job.

While schools, banks, government offices and most stores close their doors for the winter holiday, and many people take the time celebrate with food, drink, gifts and good cheer, others are making sure important services stay online.

At the Inland Hospital emergency department, Christmas morning was quiet, but the nurses and doctors on staff realized things could change within seconds.

Peggy Albert, a secretary, sat behind the nurse’s station, working at her computer. She doesn’t work every Christmas, but she has worked plenty of them over the past two decades; and this year, she volunteered to come in, Albert said.

“You do a lot of holidays. It’s all par for the course,” Albert said.

Many of the cases the ER staff sees on Christmas are fairly serious, according to Albert. People don’t want to leave celebrations with their family and friends, so it has to be something serious to bring people in.

“People who come in on Christmas tend to be really, really sick,” she said.

Brenda Roach, working at the desk beside Albert, said she typically volunteers to work on Christmas.

“I more celebrate solstice than Christmas,” Roach said.

Colleagues who want the day off appreciate that they have co-workers who are willing to work the holiday, she added.

People who are working Christmas usually bring in food for everyone to share and the cafeteria was providing a free meal – stuffed pork – for lunch.

Nathaniel White, who works at the ER administration desk, said that he had planned to work on Christmas so he could have the weekend off. His mother is a nurse at MaineGeneral Medical Center’s Thayer Center for Health across town, and she also was working the holiday. They planned to spend Saturday celebrating together at home.

Down the street, customers were coming in one after another at The Big Apple convenience store on Elm Street.

Assistant Manager Rita Woodbury answered the phone behind the counter. “We are,” she said to the person on the other line. “We’re open 24-7.” By her count, the store had gotten 10 calls already asking if it was open. Often people are relieved to know there is a store where they can pick up last-minute items or reload with snacks and drinks.

“A lot of other stores aren’t open today,” she said.

Store policy is for all employees to work the holiday, but they have reduced shifts, she said. It means everyone has to share the load, but everyone gets some holiday pay, too.

Woodbury said she celebrated with her two daughters and her 18-month-old grandson on Wednesday, the only time everyone could get together.

The convenience store would do a brisk business in beer, cigarettes and lottery tickets, Woodbury predicted. It probably would run low on dairy products, and she already had sold the cranberry sauce and stuffing she had on the shelves.

Thai Bistro, on Main Street, opened its doors around noon. Owner Jan Ketkaew recently bought the restaurant and wanted to see how business would be on the holiday. Another Thai restaurant she owns in Old Town did good business last year on Christmas, she said.Ketkaew is a Buddhist, and her family doesn’t celebrate Christmas, but they planned to have a party Friday night after closing the restaurant, she said.

At the Waterville police station, dispatchers Addie Gilman and Brandy Stanley were working the phones behind a partition of safety glass.

“Same as any other day,” Gilman said. She had come in at 6 a.m. and was scheduled to work her normal 10-hour shift. Now that her son is 14 years old, she doesn’t feel the pressure to keep the Santa myth going, so working on Christmas morning doesn’t seem that out of place.

Stanley, on the other hand, has a 9-year-old son whom she would rather be with, but he’s old enough to understand that his parents – her ex-husband also works in emergency services – sometimes have to work on special occasions.

“At 9 years old, he’s come to know that we have jobs that aren’t 9-to-5,” Stanley said.

Cookies and other holiday treats were piled on a table in the dispatch office and Gilman said someone might be bringing a holiday meal by later.

“We’re not in danger of losing weight at Christmastime around here,” joked Sgt. Lincoln Ryder, from the Waterville Police Department. People bring in lots of food to the department around the holidays to show thanks, he said.

Ryder said he has worked the last three or four Christmases because his schedule seems to line up that way. He celebrated and opened presents with his wife and two teenage sons on Thursday night, Ryder added.

Crime doesn’t take a break just because it is a holiday, Ryder noted. Officers were busy investigating a theft and an assault reported on Friday and had been called to escort someone away from a domestic dispute, he said.

“All the things that happen every other day happen on Christmas,” Ryder said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

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