When I was a teenager growing up on Long Island, I worked at an old-fashioned drug store called Arlo Pharmacy in Massapequa Park. While I would hesitate in describing it as famous, it was prominently featured in the movie Young Adult with Charlize Theron and Patton Oswalt. Prominently might be a bit of a stretch as well in that it was observed in the background only briefly, and most likely only visible to somebody who would be on guard for such a sight.
It was while working at Arlo Pharmacy that I first learned about the fact that even if there’s a holiday to be celebrated, the show as they say must go on. Working on Christmas Eve, or even Easter Sunday since my family didn’t acknowledge these celebratory days on account of our Judaism was not a big deal. Meanwhile if I wanted off Yom Kippur, or Rosh Hashana, or even Lag Ba Omer, (It’s the 33rd day of the Omer, a time of semi-mourning during the period of Sefirah where, um, nevermind.) I could take the day off and one of my Christian colleagues in the “Stock-boy” ranks would take my place. At that point, it began to occur to me that unfortunately, there are many in our society who have to work on the holidays, and there really isn’t much that can be done to prevent that.
When you consider who has to work either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day, you of course begin with your essential personal. You have your armed forces, the police, the fire department, EMT workers, road crews if it’s snowing, as well as your water and electrical custodians, better known as utility workers. These individuals always have to be on the job, and we are thankful and grateful for their service. Of course hospital workers, those who work with the disabled and the elderly also perform their functions 365 days a year, and we owe them a debt of gratitude as well. Those who work for the cable industry, as well as those in radio and television are usually needed to apply their various talents so we at home can listen to music, or tune in to watch television as we digest from our overindulgences. Again, while we are thankful to these individuals, it does seem as though there’s a certain amount of expectation that goes into these career choices that brings with them an understanding that in these lines of occupation, you may have to work on the holidays. That may not make it any better, but at least you understand the game before you begin to play it.
However, there are certain occupations that unfortunately also seem to have given rise to the idea that somebody may need them, and therefore, they have to be open. Here in the Capital Region there are certain places that we expect to never close, and would be outraged if we were to show up there and find them closed for Christmas. I always feel bad for those people, although I’m not even sure why. I’m not a Christian, and it’s not like I have any memories of Christmas as a child that would make me sad to think that somebody was missing out, however, perhaps because I married a Catholic girl and have been celebrating our own particular Christmas traditions for over 30 years, I feel the pain of those who aren’t with their families at a time where it just seems like they should be.
One of the most recognizable businesses here in the Capital Region is of course the institution known as Stewart’s Shops. Unfortunately, it is during Christmas or Christmas Eve that when I have to go into a Stewart’s Shops, I feel these pangs of guilt. I’m not angry at Stewart’s Shops, and I’m always grateful to find them open, especially when we need milk or ice cream, or eggnog, or whatever. It’s not like Stewart’s Shops is some sort of sweatshop. People are after all working there under their own free will, it’s just that it’s such a lonely outpost to begin with, and to drive up to one of them so you can pick up some inane staple that you forgot to stock up on, and you see the reddish shirted individual with the “Santa cap,” and the store security alarm necklace around their necks, that I feel as if somehow it’s my fault. At that point, I simply hope that at some point during the day or night they have something better going on.
I decided to do a little research, and by little I mean, I googled it, to find out what restaurants were in fact open on either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. I’m not talking about those that stay open until 6PM on Christmas Eve, I’m talking about those that in order to stay open well into the night, have to seriously impact the personal plans of their employees. Here’s what I came up with:
Establishments open on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day
- Athos Restaurant in Albany – It’s a Greek restaurant, and technically, when it’s Christmas Eve here in Albany, it is already over in Greece so you know…
- Bellini’s Italian Eatery in Slingerlands – What’s Christmas Eve without a veal meatball. They make them there and they’re quite good.
- Dee Dee’s Tavern in Latham – Business as usual at Dee Dee’s Tavern. I’m imagining a scene out of It’s a Wonderful Life when the alternate Bedford Falls that exists without George Bailey is taken over by Nick the “tough guy” bartender, and he says to George, “Hey look mister, we serve hard drinks in here to men who want to get drunk fast.” If my family and friends ever desert me, I guess this is where you’ll find me. Besides, why not celebrate at a bar, somewhere in the world it’s not Christmas Eve.
- Duke’s Chophouse at River’s Casino in Schenectady – When you’re in a casino, there’s no windows, clocks, and apparently holidays either. “Merry Christmas and let it ride!”
- Jack’s Oyster House in Albany – I think this is where Nelson Rockefeller used to eat his Christmas dinner while he waited for people to come up to his table and ask for money.
Whenever I think of people going to a bar for Christmas I’m always reminded of two such examples.
- It’s a Wonderful Life – You may recall that on Christmas Eve, George Bailey and what appeared to be most of Bedford Falls was drinking and making merry at Martini’s, a local watering hole. What kind of God-fearing Christians were these? Why would God send an angel to help these drunken louts? This is how they celebrate the birth of his son?
- Billy Martin – Martin, the famed and often fired baseball manager died in a drunk driving incident on his way home on Christmas Day right near his driveway. Going out to get stewed on Christmas doesn’t seem like what Linus was talking about on Charlie Brown Christmas when Charlie Brown asked if anybody knew what Christmas was all about. Of course, Linus didn’t nearly have such a sizable chip on his shoulder like the late-great Billy Martin.
It seems like a million years ago that I grew up without Christmas being anything more in my life than another day off from school. When you’re Jewish, there’s no celebrating of Christmas whatsoever. Yes we had Hanukkah, but Hanukkah is a relatively minor holiday in the Jewish faith. People still go to work and school, and it wasn’t until Jews came to America that it became a time of significant gift giving. In fact, before World War Two it was still a relatively small matter. My father told me he barely got anything for Hanukkah. After World War Two, as Jews and others became more affluent in this country, as well as the fact that all religious holidays became somewhat Americanized, Hanukkah became a “thing.”
Still as a child, Hanukkah was completely dwarfed by Christmas, as it still is. People have often asked me about what I did as a child during Christmas. Usually it goes something like this: “You mean you didn’t have a Christmas tree or get presents?” Nope, nothing. I would turn on the television and tune into either the Pope, or the Yule Log. The Yule Log was broadcast every Christmas Eve on WPIX-11, and it was just a video of a log burning in a fireplace, and they would play Christmas music, and people I assume would stare at it. They would actually advertise for it on the days leading up to Christmas Eve, and say, “Come, bring the family, and gather ’round and feel the warmth of the yule log.” It was like some sort of cult! On Christmas Day we would often go to a movie, and then eat Chinese food, and let me tell you, that wasn’t half-bad. It was also one of the few days my father would actually sleep in, sometimes past 8 o’clock, the crazy rock-star that he was.
All things in life, good and bad, are all just a matter of perspective. If you’re lucky to have a job, and you need that employment as most of us do, then working on Christmas is a minor inconvenience. After all, Christmas is just a day on the calendar, and you can always celebrate the night before, or the weekend before, or the day after. It’s really about the family and the celebration, and for some the religious aspect. Obviously for myself, there really isn’t any religious significance for me to take part in, however, any time I’m feeling a loss of my own faith on Christmas, I just head out to the nearest Chinese dining establishment, and pray at the alter of the egg roll. God bless us all, everyone.