The holiday season is a wonderful time of year when families and friends come together to celebrate their beliefs, give thanks, review the year’s highs and lows, and enjoy one another’s company. For law enforcement officers, especially those working shifts that interfere with traditional holiday observances, the holidays can be a time of struggles.
For my first Thanksgiving as a police officer, I was assigned to work day shift. As a young man, I was dismayed to discover that my extended family chose not to entirely reschedule Thanksgiving around my personal schedule. I went to work frustrated and without a plan for dinner. I figured that I would just find a place to eat in my assigned beat.
At roll call, due to my lack of seniority, I was reassigned to a remote portion of the city which had only a few restaurants. I started my shift by looking to see what restaurants were open in the area on Thanksgiving Day. I was disappointed to discover that Jack in the Box was the only restaurant open in the area. I soon got busy with calls, and when I finally arrived at Jack in the Box to enjoy my Thanksgiving banquet, I discovered that they had closed at noon so their employees could enjoy the holiday. That year, my Thanksgiving dinner consisted of an overcooked hot dog and a soda at 7-Eleven, and my holiday company was the clerk, who was also stuck working Thanksgiving afternoon.
Having learned from my Thanksgiving experience, I was able to better plan my first work Christmas experience. On Christmas Day, I was able to sneak home after early morning roll call and join my wife and young kids as they opened their presents. I was also able to make an appearance at my in-laws’ home during Christmas dinner. While these weren’t the optimal ways to experience the holidays with my family, I was able to fit some of the holiday into my work schedule.
Shift work and ridged work schedules can have a negative effect on holiday observances, but with planning and effort we can find ways to observe holidays and spend time with our families and friends. I came to terms with the fact that I could not be at all the traditional family events. I attended the events that I could and accepted that there would be events I could not make it to. Working an evening shift, I could enjoy Christmas morning with my family, but I usually missed out on my extended family’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner. After a time, I found that for some events, my extended family would work to schedule the events at times I could attend. I was grateful for their accommodations.
Winter holidays are not the only holidays that are affected by shift work. I spent most of my career working DUI enforcement in the Traffic Division, and with that assignment there were many holidays during which it was mandatory for me to work nights. I went 16 years in a row working the night of Independence Day. Instead of focusing on my inability to celebrate the evening with my family, we created a tradition of a morning hike and an afternoon of barbecue and swimming at my parents’ pool. I would leave for the celebration in the late afternoon to head into work, and my wife and kids would stay to enjoy fireworks with the family. While I missed 16 years of fireworks with my kids, I was able to find joy and create memories at the events where I was able to join them.
Time with family and friends is critical for our emotional health and wellbeing. Family holiday traditions are also an important foundation for our children as they grow to later raise families of their own. I encourage you to, despite the chaos of police work, find creative ways to build traditions and experiences for yourself and for your families. I wish you all a safe and happy holiday season.