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December is upon us. Advent is here. Christmas is coming.
Although some particularly cheery people have been talking about Christmas since before Halloween, for most it will be about now that the conversation turns to the holidays. What are you doing for Christmas? Are you going home? Are you going to her house, is he going to meet your parents? We swap tales of three-year-old ancient traditions, of disastrously trying that bottle of nameless local spirit brought back from a holiday in the 90s, or of the tense camaraderie of a family board game.
But for junior doctors, and our NHS colleagues up and down the country there is a different opener:
“Are you off for Christmas?”
“Nah – Nights”, I half sigh.
But only half. I’ll still get Christmas, of sorts. With a practiced flick of the wrist my wonderful family will cast aside the date and pick a new one. Mum and Dad have gotten so used to this – since I went to boarding school, we’ve celebrated birthdays and such on the nearest suitable date. My father always wanted us to share a birthday – I was three days late, so I think he’s secretly thrilled that we share one every year now.
Now we do it for Christmas too. This year it’ll be the 22nd. A convenient Saturday when the rota can spare me. My grandma has moved in so she’ll be there too, and even though she doesn’t understand why I’m not overjoyed when she shows me photos of my friends in the Daily Mail, I wouldn’t have it any other way. We’ll unwrap presents in silly jumpers, get weirdly over-dressed for a family lunch, drink too much, eat too much, watch some silly films and TV, and drag ourselves eventually to bed, thoroughly festive’d out. I think they’re probably less thrilled than Dad is, but they’d never say.
I know how lucky I am that they will uproot their lives for me, and we all agree it’s lovely to be able to let some colleagues who are heading home to bigger, more immutable celebrations have the real Christmas day off.
At work, we’re well practiced too. If we can’t go to the festivities, we’ll bring them to us: Elf on a shelf – check… Secret Santa – check… pot luck Christmas lunch – check.The reg and I are already plotting snacks and treats for the night shift, although the mince pies might have to forgo Santa’s usual nip of sherry. We’ll make it fun, we’ll enjoy the camaraderie of it, we’ll try to make it easier on the patients who have no choice but to be there.
But it doesn’t mean we won’t miss those of you we’re meant to be with.
Sorry. Next time! If I can…
Adam Collins is an emergency medicine ST1 in South East Scotland
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