When duty calls

When the time comes to un­wrap presents and tuck into the tur­key, spare a thought for those work­ing on Christ­mas Day. Fleur Mealing meets three women for whom De­cem­ber 25 is “busi­ness as usual”.



Ac­ci­dents hap­pen, even on Christ­mas Day, which is some­thing the staff at Starship hospi­tal know all too well. Peo­ple like Kathryn John­son put their Christ­mas Day on hold to be there to help other fam­i­lies in need, whether it be for a bro­ken arm or some­thing far more se­ri­ous. For Kathryn, a paediatric emer­gency nurse practitioner at Starship Hospi­tal, it is not a chore but some­thing she likes to do. “There are a lot of [med­i­cal] places that don’t open on Christ­mas Day so I think it’s im­por­tant for the com­mu­nity to know there is a place that they can go… in some ways that takes the stress out of what some may en­vis­age as be­ing a fan­tas­tic day, and then one of their kids falls off their brand new bike,” she says. Com­bin­ing her love of chil­dren and emer­gency nurs­ing, Kathryn has been at Starship for 12 years. “I guess part of the al­lure for emer­gency nurs­ing is you just don’t know what is go­ing to walk through that door. It might be one of those days where all you see is fevers and coughs and runny noses but then there are other days where it is bro­ken arms, bro­ken legs, and lac­er­a­tions.” Chil­dren’s Christ­mas gifts such as bikes, scoot­ers and tram­po­lines all seem to lend them­selves to more bro­ken bones than nor­mal on Christ­mas Day. “It would be fair to say or­thopaedics is gen­er­ally busier that day,” says Kathryn. Christ­mas in the Starship emer­gency depart­ment is about mak­ing the best of a bad sit­u­a­tion. Staff dress up, dec­o­rate the de­part­ments and give out presents to the chil­dren, all while work­ing to fix what brought them to the hospi­tal in the first place. And for the doc­tors, nurses and other staff there is a shared lunch to cel­e­brate the big day. “You get a great sense of team­work and ca­ma­raderie. You’re here with your sec­ond fam­ily in some ways,” says Kathryn. “It is not a sac­ri­fice at all, you just have to make the best of it.”

Staff dress up and give out presents to the chil­dren.”


When Clare Bar­rie leaves for work on Christ­mas morn­ing, her daugh­ters think noth­ing of it.

As the vicar of St Luke’s Angli­can Church in Mt Al­bert, Auck­land,

Clare is re­spon­si­ble for lead­ing the Christ­mas ser­vices for her com­mu­nity.

“I think that for our girls they don’t know any dif­fer­ent, it is just part of what Christ­mas is for them,” she says. “It doesn’t feel like work to me be­cause the cel­e­bra­tion is so sig­nif­i­cant – I guess it is part of who I am.”

Weeks of plan­ning go into pre­par­ing the church, in par­tic­u­lar for the two ser­vices on Christ­mas Eve and one the next morn­ing on Christ­mas Day.

At Christ­mas, as well as for Easter, bap­tisms and funer­als, Clare dons her white and gold robes to mark the oc­ca­sion. For her they are spe­cial – the colours rep­re­sent res­ur­rec­tion and new life.

At 5pm on Christ­mas Eve, lo­cal chil­dren and their fam­i­lies come to the church for a short, fun ser­vice full of Christ­mas car­ols and sto­ries. Dress­ing up is en­cour­aged and Clare says the kids come as what­ever they like. A few Bat­mans and Su­per­mans have filled the pews over the years.

Fol­low­ing the early evening ser­vice, they set up for the more tra­di­tional mid­night mass at 11.30pm.

“At about 1am we tidy up the church and set up for Christ­mas morn­ing. By the time that is done all I want to do is lie on the sofa… I’m prob­a­bly in bed by about 2am and then up again at 7am.”

For Christ­mas Day, one of the big­gest days in the church’s cal­en­dar, Clare says the ser­vice is sim­ple, with a much smaller con­gre­ga­tion. It is all over by 11am and Clare – the first fe­male vicar of St Lukes – can re­turn home to lots of food and wrap­ping pa­per all over the floor, a stan­dard with young chil­dren, she says.

Al­though she is ex­hausted from work, there is no place she would rather be than with her fam­ily.

“Time with my fam­ily, kids, you just can’t go past that and the sense of joy and fun they have.”


For one day ev­ery year, the hus­tle and bus­tle of Auck­land Zoo is re­placed with com­plete calm. On Christ­mas Day, the gates are closed and zookeep­ers are able to spend some one-on-one time with their beloved an­i­mals. For Pride­lands keeper Jessie Hill, this will be her sec­ond year work­ing at the zoo on Christ­mas Day. And while her mum back home in Aus­tralia might pre­fer she fly back there for Christ­mas, Jessie says work­ing on a day when every­one else is un­wrap­ping presents and en­joy­ing fes­tive fare is far from a chore for her. “I choose to work Christ­mas Day be­cause my fam­ily is back in Aus­tralia… and other staff prob­a­bly want to go spend it with theirs.” At lunch time, the zoo staff share a meal to­gether, one of the only times in the year when they get the op­por­tu­nity to be all to­gether. The an­i­mals don’t miss out on the cel­e­bra­tions ei­ther – they are treated to presents, in the form of fruit and veg­eta­bles in boxes, and are able to roam as they please with­out the pres­sure of be­ing on dis­play. Jessie says it is nice to give the an­i­mals a day to do what they want. “I think my favourite part [of Christ­mas Day] would have to be how dif­fer­ent it feels – it’s kind of eerie and sur­real that there is no public around.” She ad­mits, though, that the an­i­mals do find the lack of crowds strange. “I think the an­i­mals def­i­nitely pick up on the fact there is no public around. The gi­raffes and ze­bras get a bit con­fused as to why it is so quiet, as they are in an area where there are al­ways peo­ple go­ing past, but the cats are a lot more re­laxed and just snooze ev­ery­where.” How­ever it is only a mere 24 hours be­fore it is busi­ness as usual for Jessie and her cu­ri­ous gi­raffes.

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