From NHS nurses to police officers: meet the women working Christmas

Posted by for Careers

“I want to celebrate people who are working on Christmas Day, while the rest of us are having a 9am Chocolate Orange,” says guest editor Claudia Winkleman. “They keep the world turning.” 

LAUREN COSTIN, PAEDIATRIC NURSE

Costin, 30, is a junior ward sister at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. Her patients are all aged between one and 14. This will be her fifth time working on Christmas Day.

“We do things differently at Christmas. We try to move the children’s chemo so they can either have Christmas at home or, if they can’t be moved or are too unwell, we schedule it so they can go out for the afternoon. We open up visiting hours so we are constantly busy. Rather than having one person stay the night, we let a few so families can wake up together. Sometimes they want to do their own thing, other times we will put music on and gifts go around. We just try to make it a really nice day.

The feeling at Christmas is always lovely despite it being a hard time. We decorate the ward with fairy lights, have all the celebrations, jingle bells and a tree. But you do need to assess each situation individually because there might be a family who are having a particularly difficult time or their child is seriously ill and they can’t celebrate. Usually, though, people seem to want to.

My most memorable moment was working a night shift on Christmas Eve. I was there when the children woke up on Christmas Day. We had got them each a stocking as it was one less thing for the parents to worry about. We were expecting the very little ones, the four- or five-yearolds, to wake up really early. But at six o’clock two 14-year-old boys came to the nurses’ station to open their gifts. They had remote control helicopters and were so excited they started flying them around the ward.

Nurse Lauren Costin tries to make her ward as festive as possible

Twelve hours is a standard shift on the ward so I’ll be working from 8am to 8.30pm. All the staff are doing secret Santa – just a silly one so we’ve got something to open on the day. The matron is also going to bring us a Christmas dinner to eat together. It is always hard working on Christmas Day, as everyone naturally wants to be with their own family. But I remember the first time I worked, driving in and thinking it was going to be awful and then I had a lovely day.

I do always remind myself that at the end of it, I’m going home to see my family and have a normal Boxing Day. The families at the hospital don’t get to go home. They could be there for weeks or months. It’s really inspiring to see them all carry on regardless.”

CHARLIE KEEN, SAMARITANS VOLUNTEER

The Samaritans receive more than 300,000 calls during the festive period. Keen, 30, has volunteered the last five Christmas Days and will be answering calls again this year.

“On Christmas Day I work a three-to-four hour shift. A feeling of isolation is something that comes up in conversation a lot. Callers might be surrounded by people but still feel that there’s no one who can understand what’s going on in their mind. We often hear people apologise, saying, ‘I’m sure there’s someone going through something worse.’ But each person’s worry or problem is relative and if, in that moment, they need someone to talk to then that is exactly what we are there for. It’s not only a service for those who feel suicidal. Our overall aim is that fewer people will struggle or die because they’ve come to us before it reaches that point.

When people do tell us they want to end their life, we engage with them and ask why they feel like that, what they think the impact will be and reflect back the other options there might be for them. A lot of people will be thinking about the effect it will have on their families and the people who find them.

I’m 100% focused on listening to others and trying to have as much understanding as possible about what they’re going through. And I don’t feel as though I miss out on the festivities. I actually really enjoy being able to take a break from the issues that are going on in my own world. It’s much harder for me to care about the turkey being too dry or the gravy too runny when I know I’m going to be talking to someone who might be grappling with the hardest thing in their life or feeling incredibly alone.

Portrait of Samaritan Charlie Keen
Charlie Keen spends Christmas day talking to anyone who is struggling

For the rest of the year I volunteer once a week at a branch in London. I began working for the Samaritans after my father had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. There were lots of people helping my parents and spending time with them but I was frustrated that I couldn’t do more due to distance and my working hours. I thought maybe I could give the time I did have to other people instead.

There’s a great deal of pressure at this time of the year. Things feel more intense for people around the holidays. There’s also a huge sense of needing to feel happy and to want to celebrate with others. There’s not really much in the way of messaging that says it’s totally normal and OK if you feel anxious. That’s why we do more over the holiday season because we know it’s a hard time for people. The phone lines are always busy. We’re on hand 24/7 to help people.”

Anyone can contact the Samaritans free any time from any phone on 116 123

TWINKAL SHARMA, POLICE OFFICER

PC Sharma, 26, is a Metropolitan police officer and participant on the Police Now graduate programme. This is her second Christmas working for the force.

Police officer Twinkal Sharma
Police officer Twinkal Sharma deals with lots of domestic disputes

“I volunteered to work this Christmas. I don’t have children so if I work it gives those with families the opportunity to take the time off. It’s important to support my other officers as we’re all so close. They’ve seen me at my worst and have helped lift me back up so it’s nice to be able to do something in return.

I’m a neighbourhood police officer, so I’m usually out on the beat or working on projects to prevent crime, but on Christmas Day I’ll be on the response team, which involves going out to 999 calls. Most calls we receive are domestic related. Families are all together, often drinking a lot, and sometimes violence breaks out. In my borough we practise positive action so we have to arrest when we are called out to a domestic incident. Taking people away from their families on Christmas Day is hard, but if it’s going to make everyone safer then it’s important to do so.

This year I’m working from 3pm to 11pm. If I wasn’t working, I’d be spending time at home with my parents and sister, but this way I get the morning with my family and time to have Christmas lunch before I go to work. I can’t eat too much as I need to be able to run on the job. My sister is a trainee paramedic so my parents understand that we are often away at important times of the year.

The office is usually quieter as quite a few teams are off duty, but there’s a Christmas tree and we do secret Santa. Everybody makes the effort to sit down and have a meal together. We can’t make a Christmas dinner in the station but we all bring things in and do a buffet instead.”

SATASHI DAVIES, FOOD & BEVERAGE MANAGER AT EDWARDIAN HOTELS

Davies, 31, is food and beverage manager at Edwardian Hotels and led the recent launch of Bloomsbury Street Kitchen. She has worked almost every Christmas since 2010, making sure the restaurants and hotels run smoothly.

“Eight years ago, I was working at the Radisson Blu opposite University College Hospital in London. A couple came in and told me they had lost their daughter to cancer. They wanted to organise a Christmas lunch for the boys and girls on the children’s ward – at which point I got involved carting food over on big trolleys. We’ve been doing this ritual ever since. Seeing the smiles on the children’s faces and the happiness the families get from being able to enjoy a Christmas meal together is amazing. It’s something a lot of us take for granted.

Portrait of Satashi Davies manager at Edwardian hotelss
Satashi Davies has worked the last eight Christmases

This Christmas I’ll be overseeing the bars and restaurants across two London hotels, managing a team of 42 people serving a special five-course menu. I’ve worked pretty much every Christmas since I started as a part-time waitress. My family are all in India – I grew up in Delhi and moved to the UK in 2010 to study hospitality – so I never used to mind working.

But now I have a three-year-old daughter it is becoming harder to leave her. Being with family matters a lot. There are three shifts on Christmas Day but we are each given our own room in one of the hotels to stay over. It’s too tricky to get home as there isn’t any public transport.

I tend to be in the restaurant from beginning to end: we’ll start with a Christmas breakfast, serve the big lunch and then serve a dinner. It’s a completely different atmosphere to a normal day – everyone is so happy, so joyful. As is the nature of hospitality, we never really know how many people we’ll be serving until the actual day, but it’s usually those staying in the hotel along with any visiting family members. People exchange gifts at the tables, decked out in Christmas jumpers and their paper hats from crackers. My staff have turkey and we all do secret Santa. Then when the guests have gone, we have a drink and a catch-up.

Occasionally we have a guest who comes in alone to have their Christmas dinner. I try to make sure that as a team we interact with them. It’s nice to become their companions so they don’t feel alone, especially at a time when it can feel like everyone else is with loved ones.”

BECCI CHUTE, VIRGIN AIRWAYS CABIN CREW

Chute, 27, has worked as cabin crew for Virgin since she was 18 and has operated various Christmas Day flights. This year she flies to Antigua on 24 December. 

“Last year in Dubai, my colleagues and I had flatbread and hummus for Christmas dinner. It was a completely different experience. On the flight there was a festive dinner for anyone who wanted it and the crew each brought a little festive snack to eat, like mince pies. But it’s important to be sensitive to the country you are travelling to. Christmas isn’t a Muslim holiday so many of the passengers on board were not celebrating.

Virgin Cabin Crew Becci Chute
Becci Chute spends Christmas day in the air

The first Christmas flight I worked was to Orlando. A few passengers had surprised their children with the news of their holiday that morning. The kids were all so excited. A couple of them told me they’d asked to go to Walt Disney World in their letters to Father Christmas. Seeing their faces when their wishes had come true was lovely.

This year I’ll be flying to Antigua. At Virgin, we’re lucky enough to have the opportunity to take a companion with us and, if we fly over Christmas, they have a confirmed seat. Because my flight is going to be quiet I’m taking my mum, dad and sister with me. The crew are all bringing Christmas T-shirts – you can’t do Christmas jumpers in the Caribbean.

It’s nice to be able to spend Christmas with my family this year, but I’m lucky they’re understanding. I am so proud of the work I do. We don’t just come to work and serve food, we make the flight special for everyone.

Nine times out of ten when you turn up for a flight, you only know one or two crew. But the beauty of the job is that by the time you land, you all feel a sense of complete camaraderie.”

Photography: Mark Harrison

Hair and Make-Up: Emily Dhan Jal using Codex Skincare and Bed Head by Tigi 

Share this article

Recommended by Chloe Gray and Meena Alexander