10 Doses of Inspiration for Nurses Working on Christmas Day

Christmas is a time of celebrating age-old traditions with our loved ones – a time most of us look forward to eagerly, never mind how old we are. But this is not a perfect world – illness and trauma don’t respect the day of the year. Every Christmas, there are nurses who have to give up their own celebrations with their loved ones to care for their patients.

This might be the first Christmas you’ll be working, or maybe you’re facing the prospect with a heavier heart than usual. To help lift your spirits, here are some special messages that have been sent to nurses to show that what you do is appreciated; and also some uplifting stories and views from nurses about working on Christmas day.

Surely, every nurse who has worked over on Christmas can confirm that there are extra thankyou’s cards, messages, treats and nursing gifts from appreciative patients and their families. That is besides the grateful smiles and heart-warming looks in patients’ eyes when the nurses go over and above their usual duties to bring some festive cheer.

Some people, however, have gone further at this time of the year by sharing their gratitude for nurses with the world.

1A Christmas Love Letter to Nurses

Lauren Tedaldi, a breast cancer survivor, decided not to send out any Christmas cards but instead posted a special Christmas love letter to nurses on a blog. “We are grateful and thankful and completely unable to show you how much because you see us when we are at our worst. When we are sick and tired (and sick and tired) and broken. And you fix us,” she wrote. “We love you. Merry Christmas (I hope you get the holidays off).”

“We are grateful and thankful and completely unable to show you how much because you see us when we are at our worst. When we are sick and tired (and sick and tired) and broken. And you fix us,”

2Christmas Greetings From this Little Man

Together with a video of her son in hospital, Naomi Patterson, wrote the message “Thanks to the excellent staff all year round, I get to spend another Christmas with my little man… thank you to all….. Merry Christmas.”

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3Thank Your Nurses This Christmas

Plastic surgeon Anthony Youn, after calling on a patient on Christmas morning, encouraged everyone to  thank their nurse at Christmas. This message was inspired by the nurse on duty that day.

She was working her second 12-hour shift, standing in for a colleague who had called in sick. “I was in awe of Sara. Operating on almost no sleep, she was spending Christmas working in the hospital, instead of with her small children, and she was going about her job cheerfully without complaint and with consummate professionalism,” he said. “We owe a great debt to the people who serve us and our country.”

4Appreciating Nurses (with discounts!)

A restaurant in Australia, Karma and Crow, posted a nurse appreciation post on Facebook and asked everyone to send some love to their favorite nurse on the post. “Xmas is a hectic time for nurses, they work crazy hours, they are spread thin and there’s so much demand on them. Often they miss out on family time because they’re busy helping everyone.” They also offered nurses a special discount on a breakfast and coffee.

5An Impromptu Christmas Party

Nurses sharing their stories about working on Christmas day mostly conclude that, in the end, it was uplifting. They describe many positives about spending the day with their work family and some even experience unexpected  blessings.

One of the most heartwarming stories is one told by ER nurse, Victoria Schlintz. On triage duty, she was faced by a mother and four children – all with vague complaints.  When the mother said that they didn’t mind waiting for the doctor because it was warm in the waiting room, and the nurse noted that the family was homeless, she realized that the prescription needed was not drugs but some Christmas cheer.

The ER nursing team went into action. They claimed their own hospital cafeteria meals and prepared a banquet for the family, put together presents with odds and ends lying about, and took turns to join the Christmas party in the waiting room.  With lots of laughter and chatter, the party lasted most of the shift, and in the end a shelter that would take in the family in was located.  As the group left, the four-year old ran back and whispered “Thanks for being our angels today”.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the nurse’s station and they had a Christmas Day that none would ever forget. 

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6Appreciating What You Have

For nurse Beth Hawkes, it was small revelations throughout the day that made her realize that “You know what? Working Christmas turned out OK, after all.” She had never spent Christmas away from family before and was really feeling sorry for herself as she got dressed and travelled to work.  As she went through her day she came to appreciate that, unlike her patients, she would be going home at the end of the day. When faced with the mother who had just been diagnosed with a virulent form of cancer, together with her husband and two daughters, nurse Beth was filled with gratitude that her husband did not have cancer, and that her children had two healthy parents.

After sharing a piece of chocolate cake with a homeless, drug-addicted young man – a regular in the unit – she realized that she had a good job with benefits, worked indoors, and would be getting extra pay for working on Christmas Day. She was also grateful for her co-workers – her work family – all of whom had left their families behind.  The day flew past and soon she was able to go home to her family. “But still, maybe next year, could I get Christmas off?”

7Dressing Up As Santa

Nurse Georgie chooses to work on Christmas day because it is such a special time of the year. She tells of the laughs they had when she dressed up as Santa and went into a patient’s room at midnight. One of her patients shared the tradition of opening presents with her family over Skype and the children could even see Santa (Nurse Georgie) in the background.

8The “Positives” of Working on Christmas Day

In a chat group, one nurse humorously pointed out some less obvious positives to working on Christmas day.  You can get out of requests of helping with the preparations for large family gatherings, like getting up at the crack of dawn to  cook some dish for Christmas dinner, with the excuse of “I won’t be here, I have to WORK on Christmas day.”  And on Boxing Day you can be all tired out and get everyone to fuss over you because you had to work the day before.

9Bringing the Spirit of Christmas to Your Patients

Many nurses describe how different Christmas Day is from normal days in the unit, as the nursing team works together to bring the spirit of Christmas to their patients.  Patients don’t want to be in the hospital on the day any more than the nurses do and during the festive season they can feel more than usually isolated and depressed. This is especially true of the elderly, those whose families as unable to visit, and children.

Nurse Jace Vargas-Weissner, who works at a Children’s Hospital, explained that there are no specific guidelines on how to identify and give that extra bit of attention to certain patients during the holiday season – but nurses know. “The more seasoned nurses tend to lead the newer staff in showing that it’s OK to give a little extra attention to those patients, whether it’s watching a cartoon with them while you both eat a popsicle, or sneaking them a cookie from the staff potluck (if it’s OK in their diet orders)” Vargas-Weissner said.

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10Extra Bit of Caring Goes a Long Way

For countless years and across the world nurses have been creative in bringing Christmas to their patients and each other – whether its dressing up in holiday themed scrubs, Christmas hats or other accessories; decorating the unit: spending a bit of extra time with lonely patients, or arranging for special treat or gifts.

Working on Christmas can be a drag or it can be memorable and even enjoyable – it all depends on whether you choose to be a Grinch or to have a positive attitude, think happy thoughts and join in the holiday spirit with a giving heart.

Frieda Paton, M.Cur, RN
Frieda Paton is a registered nurse with a Master’s degree in nursing education. Her passion for nursing education, nursing issues and advocacy for the profession were ignited while she worked as an education officer, and later editor, at a national nurses’ association. This passion, together with interest in health and wellness education since her student days, stayed with her throughout her further career as a nurse educator and occupational health nurse. Having reached retirement age, she continues to contribute to the profession as a full-time freelance writer. In the news and feature articles she writes for Nurseslabs, she hopes to inspire nursing students and nurses on the job to reflect on the trends and issues that affect their profession and communities - and play their part in advocacy wherever they find themselves.

5 COMMENTS

  1. #2 brought tears to my eyes. When I used to work in the hospital, I always volunteered to work Christmas. Since I am Jewish, it was just another day for me and I wanted to help out any fellow Christian nurse who had to work that day get the day off if possible. I used to volunteer in the hospitals to help when I was a teen. It is considered a mitzvah (hebrew for ‘good deed) to help another person, and doing tikkun olam (repairing the world) is a large part of that. I am proud to be a nurse and to be of service in any way that I can be to my patients and fellow team members. Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!

  2. I will be on night duty on Christmas day. I just pray for God’s strength to express my love of Christ birth to my patients in the E/R on the night.

    #love and #care

  3. I will be on night duty from Christmas Eve to beyond Boxing Day at the Burns and Plastic Unit. Thinking vof how to put smiles on the faces of my patients with impaired body images.

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