Whether it’s the dedicated souls working the projector at a local movie theater, front desk staff at a hotel, back of house staff at any number of restaurants, or the seasoned barkeep making small talk while pouring liquor, for many workers, Christmas is “just a normal day” as one hotel employee put it. So who are these brave souls who work the holidays for those who can’t? Here are the stories of two such heroes.
Tie one on for Santa
Tucked in a lot in inner Southeast Portland, lies Beer Mongers—an unassuming bottle shop and tap room. Behind the counter, David Voss is pouring, as customers trickle in on a Thursday afternoon. The space is unassuming, and The Replacements are on heavy rotation. Near the entrance, a sign displays 5,157— the number of days the bar’s been open since the business launched 14 years ago.
It’s an atmosphere Voss likens to “drinking in somebody’s garage,” if that garage were tidy and filled with craft beer.
The bar is open daily, including holidays. “We’re open by choice,” Voss says of the bar’s Christmas hours. “We have a lot of regulars, so they’d be here regardless.”
For others, it’s a place to bring family visiting from out of town, or for tourists to sample some of what the Northwest does best—beer.
To the right of the bar, a giant sign-up sheet is posted with names. The tap room’s staff and repeat customers are planning a potluck for Thanksgiving.
“We sort of function as that third space for people,” Voss says, referring to the setting that isn’t home, or work, but a gathering spot or preferred locale.
Voss can remember the year a glass blower and frequent bar patron fashioned beer bottle tops into single-hit pipes that were given to Beer Mongers staff as stocking stuffers.
Voss, 37, a Houston native who landed in Portland and doesn’t have family nearby, says if he weren’t working at the bar on Christmas, he’d probably be sitting at its counter, or making the rounds at one of the many tap rooms within a mile radius, before cozying up to a horror movie. His situation is common in Portland–a city teeming with 30 and 40-somethings whose families live in distant states.
“When you know everyone is doing something, somewhere, there’s a feeling of why not?” Voss says of working the holiday.
‘Your Christmas is about to take a strange turn’
For the past decade, Shana Kusin has spent each Christmas in the hospital.
Dr. Kusin is a physician at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU). Each year, while the city is awash in lights and holiday decor, and most businesses are closed, she volunteers to work a shift or two in the emergency department at OHSU.
Hers is one of many professions that can’t, or won’t, take the day off.
Dr. Kusin, 47, is Jewish. Growing up, Christmas day meant going out for Chinese food and heading to a movie theater with family.
Despite her appreciation for the season’s spirited decor and traditions, she doesn’t maintain the same sentimental attachment to the holiday that many of her peers do.
“We always joked that all the Jewish doctors and nurses are at the hospitals during Christmas,” Dr. Kusin said. “I feel almost a moral obligation to be there, because for so many of my colleagues, it’s critically important for them to have it off.”
It isn’t LEGOs up the nose or ski accidents, or even cooking mishaps that land people in the hospital for the holiday. More often, it’s people who are lonely and depressed, or those who have been pushed to seek medical treatment by a family member.
“I see a solid portion of patients who really don’t need to be there, but they needed somewhere to go, and there was something on their minds,” Dr. Kusin says. “Beyond that, people really try to stay away from the hospital.”
While many are at home and giving gifts, Dr. Kusin often has to give heavy news.
“I feel like almost every Christmas, I have to tell someone I’m diagnosing them with cancer they didn’t know they had, or I’m diagnosing a blood clot,” Dr. Kusin says. “I remember a patient from another state who had a major blood clot straining his heart from a cancer he didn’t know about. I think about him every year.”
She recalls another patient who had put off seeing a doctor before collapsing during dinner with family.
“Sometimes people see family on Christmas they haven’t seen for a while, and the family recognizes they’re not doing so well,” Dr. Kusin says.
Sometimes that bad news is what saves a life.
“I remember one year someone came in who was healthy and had no medical symptoms, and ended up having a mass,” Dr. Kusin recalls. “They got admitted and started treatment… and that was four years ago. Even though I only saw this person in the ER, I ended up on their care team and I get updates that this person is doing fantastic.
“Every time I see that, I immediately remember I talked to them on Christmas Eve and I’m so happy for them… that they had a good outcome like that.”