policeman watching the Macy's Thanksgiving day parade
John Minchillo—AP

Meet The People Who Work On Thanksgiving (So You Don't Have To)

Nov 25, 2014

On Thanksgiving morning, Claire Graves will not be sleeping in, nor will she be getting a turkey into the oven. Instead, at 7 a.m. Graves will be at Columbia University Medical Center starting the first hour of a 24-hour shift as a general surgery resident. While her family is in Atlanta digging into a turkey dinner, she will be over 700 miles away in New York City, working the hospital's trauma beat.

"I'll probably leave the hospital around 9 or 9:30 a.m. the day after," she guesses. "My mom is not happy, but she's known it's been coming."

Graves is one of roughly 1 in 4 Americans, according to an Allstate/National Journal poll, who will be working on either Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year's Day. Society still has to function, holiday or not, and it's this 25% of the workforce that helps make it possible for the rest of us to enjoy our time off.

What's it like being part of the Thanksgiving labor force? We reached out to a variety of different professions to find out.

The Doctor
Graves isn't exactly happy she's working on Thanksgiving, but for her, it's part of the job:

"I expected it to happen. I'm grateful I've gotten to spend the past two Thanksgivings with the family. One of us has to be here... I'm expecting it to be fairly quiet"

Any Turkey?

"The nurses always have potlucks so the food is fantastic. They always feed the residents."

The Retail Worker
Marie Baldwin, a 20-year old Minnesota resident, has worked three Thanksgivings at various clothing stores, and she'll be on the job again this Thursday. Understandably, she's not look forward to it:

"[In the past] I've been at the store at 7 p.m. on Thanksgiving, so it cut everything short. Thanksgiving isn't really a holiday for me. I get to see family, but it's really short, whereas Christmas I have the time to relax. There's no impending doom of Black Friday so it's a lot less stressful."

Could it be worse?

"I worked for Ralph Lauren for two years. One time, I had a 7 p.m. shift on Thanksgiving Day, and the next day a shift at 1 a.m., something just really awful."

Are the customers insane?

"Uhh Yeahhh, there's definitely a type. If you're going Black Friday shopping, you're really there to get a good price. The people who go out, they're just not afraid to really get angry."

"There have been a few customers just not having it at 4 a.m... I've had a lot of merchandise thrown at me."

"People always expect more on sale than what retailers are offering so they'll try to barter with you—which is ridiculous because there's nothing I can do—and they'll get really mad if you don't give that 'yes' answer."

The Police Officer
Chris James has worked for the Riverhead, Long Island police department for 20 years. During that time, he's worked roughly 15 Thanksgivings.

What are your holidays like?

"On Thanksgiving, we do the quiches for breakfast and then the family does Thanksgiving afterwards and I get the leftovers. After 20 years, I can honestly say that feels like my norm, as difficult as it sounds."

How does your family feel about it?

"You know, my kids have dealt with it since they were born. As they get older it wears a little thin on them. It takes away from the holiday spirit, but they accept it."

"When the kids were young I would try to switch with other guys, the older guys, so at least I was around at Christmas morning for the kids. Not so much for Thanksgiving. That's something they learned to live with."

On the workload:

"With holidays like [Thanksgiving] you tend to be a little on the busy side. The alcohol and everything else kicks in... It tends to be a little busy as the evening goes on... There have been disputes where things got very ugly, but that's mostly on Christmas."

The Firefighter
Jim Long, director of public information for the Fire Department of New York, gave us some insight into as to how city firefighters celebrate the holiday.

On the big meal:

"Most firehouses will probably take time out to cook a traditional seasonal meal, in this case turkey and all of the other items that come along with it. All the fixins, whatever they choose. But they are working, and there's a day crew and a night crew."

On work/life balance:

"I'm sure they take some time to spend with the family and acknowledge the holiday. Some might do a brunch, some might do an early dinner. You understand when you come on the FDNY that you will sacrifice a lot to family time, especially in the holiday season."

The Retail Techie
Sharon Khander, a recent college grad working for a large national clothing department store's website, is responsible for making sure your online shopping experience goes smoothly during the holidays.

What's your job right now?

"Before Thanksgiving we move all the content from the staging environment we use for testing. Going from that staging environment to the live site, there can be a lot of differences."

"On Thursday morning at 4 a.m., before shoppers are awake, we test all the features, like doing a fake checkout with a fake card to make sure everything goes okay... We have to constantly monitor all the popular products and put a sold out message up right as we're about to run through all the stock."

"I should be out of the office by noon and off to Thanksgiving, but it's still difficult to wake up that early on a holiday."

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