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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, December 25, 2004

Working holiday just fine for many

By Amy Joyce
Washington Post

WASHINGTON — Mike McElwee is actually looking forward to spending Christmas Day at Reagan National Airport. It will be decorated, it will probably be pretty quiet, and he will earn extra holiday pay.

The airport operations duty manager volunteered to work on Christmas, even though he and his wife celebrate the holiday.

"I figured I'd give folks with families time to enjoy time with their kids," he said.

Give this man a fruitcake.

"It's kind of relaxing to work on Christmas Day. And the airport is all decorated up anyhow," said McElwee, who has worked many Christmases during the 20 years he was in the Air Force.

Between his workday duties, he will nosh on sweets and desserts brought in to share. And he plans to wander the hallways and wish the others who are working a happy holiday.

"It would be nicer to be at home," he said. But "it's not a hardship."

Because many businesses operate around the clock, holiday or not, thousands of workers will still descend upon the workplace on this day of roasting chestnuts, fireside carols — and takeout Chinese food. Many are volunteers who offer to take the holiday well in advance. It often pays more, it's quiet, and for those who don't celebrate Christmas, it's something to do on a day when most everything is closed.

There is no federal law that says an employee must be given Christmas off, or that says those who work Christmas must be paid overtime. About 98 percent of all U.S. companies recognize Christmas as an official holiday, but since both Christmas and New Year's Day fall on a Saturday this year, many people will get no paid time off.

For those who volunteer to work the holiday, there is usually an act of kindness involved, but also a little practicality: It can mean extra pay and brownie points with co-workers who do celebrate.

Sue Sayyad, the Washington Marriott catering sales manager, doesn't celebrate Christmas, so she volunteered to work two banquet events. She'll spend Christmas Eve running a wedding reception and Christmas Day at an Indonesian church group's Christmas celebration although, as a manager, she gets no extra pay.

"I want the other managers to spend Christmas with their families," said Sayyad, who has worked many Christmases and Christmas Eves during her 10 years with Marriott.

Working on the 25th can be much better than staying home, ordering from the few takeout choices open, or walking the deserted streets.

"It's fun to be at work instead of being home and just doing nothing," Sayyad said.

Blockbuster Video is open on the holiday, and that's fine with Kevin Kennedy, a suburban store manager whose birthday is Christmas Eve, so the big celebration will be that night with friends. Most of his family lives in Pennsylvania and driving there just for Christmas Day never makes sense, he said.

"Since I knew my mother would be down for Thanksgiving, I told (the store) in advance I'd work Christmas," Kennedy said.

Most of the employees don Santa hats, and some workers who aren't on duty will bring food to the store for those who are.

Gil Castaneda is a traffic controller at the suburban Smart Traffic Center, monitoring interstates by remote cameras for accidents, roadwork and blocked lanes.

The 23-year-old volunteered to work Christmas Day because he isn't married, doesn't have children, and can still get dinner at his parents' suburban house before the day is over.

"If it wasn't me, it would be someone else," said Castaneda, who is looking forward to the extra pay.

It's also quiet and there are fewer people in the office.

So it's easier to keep his eye on the incidents, including any deer that are hit along the highways.

"Let's hope none of them are reindeer," he said.