Dear Ticket Sellers, Ticket Takers, Managers, Projectionists, Concession Workers, Assistant Managers, and Custodial Staff,
Some of you will have to go to work tomorrow when so many of the rest of us will spend the day at home with our families. Especially if Christmas is a deeply meaningful holiday for you, going to work tomorrow may bring with it some bitterness. After all, nobody “needs” to go to the movies on Christmas Day. I’m a nurse, by profession. I understand the need for me to work holidays; it’s what I signed on for when I went to nursing school. Same for doctors, cops, fire fighters, armed forces personnel, hotel employees, public utility workers, et cetera. I don’t begrudge my patients “making me” come to work on weekends and holidays. Their need is far greater than mine. And though I can’t speak for all nurses, I can tell you that I haven’t worked a single holiday without a patient or family member thanking me for coming to work that day. Though I don’t work holidays much any more, I’ve been there, and I know it’s tough to leave the house when your loved ones are gearing up for a warm day together. Especially when nobody’s going to bother to say “thank you” for being at work.
In many ways, it’s worse for you. Like I said, nobody has to go to the movies on Christmas Day. Not even retail workers have to work Christmas (not yet, anyway). Many restaurants close for the day. Why not movie theaters? What kind of people go to the movies on a religious holiday, anyway? A person would have to be pretty self-absorbed to make theater employees leave their families on Christmas just so he can take in the latest action flick or adolescent comedy. Or worse, drag the kids to whatever celebrity-voiced animated ridiculousness they’re throwing up on the screen this season. Seems like anybody who walks through the doors at the multiplex tomorrow has got to be pretty selfish.
Some are. But not everyone.
For years, it was just me and my Knucklehead. I’m not a Christian, and The Knucklehead’s mom is. I have no family nearby, and The Knucklehead’s mom has a huge extended family in the area. So it only made sense for me to hang stockings and exchange gifts with my boy before Christmas, then turn him over to his mom on the actual day (I’d always scoop him up for New Years, which I liked better anyway). That would leave me free to work Christmas, which was fine; that meant I was helping out a nurse who wanted to take the day off. Everybody wins.
Except for quite a few years, I worked as an agency nurse, which I did to make my schedule more flexible for The Knucklehead. The only problem is that agency nurses are the first to be cancelled when the patient census drops. And the patient census almost always drops in hospitals over Christmas, because nobody’s going in for any procedures that they can possibly hold off until after the holidays. So for quite a while, after The Knucklehead went to his mom’s on Christmas Eve, or the next morning, I’d get a call telling me they didn’t need me to come into work.
Now, maybe you need to experience this in order to really know what it feels like. Maybe not, maybe you can relate. But there is nothing more depressing than being by yourself on Christmas Day, even if you’re not Christian, and there are a lot of us out there who aren’t. I have to tell you that not being Christian in America is tough on the best of days. There’s little that makes you feel more like an outsider than not participating in the predominant religion. Throughout the rest of the year, it’s always there in the background, but through the Christmas season, there is no getting away from it. Through 11 months of the year, if you’re not Christian, you walk through your life feeling like there’s something almost-but-not-quite-American about you. During December, you feel positively foreign. You feel almost traitorous to the values of your friends and community. Those of you who know, know. It’s tangible.
So if you don’t want to kick around a lonely apartment the day everyone else is being mandated to feeling warmly (turning on the television is not a smart idea that day), and you need a change of scene to escape the incoming tsunami of self-pity, your options are limited. You find yourself at the movies.
And let me tell you, the local multiplex is a garden of delight on that loneliest of days. It is Mecca, Nirvana, Disneyland, and the Elysian Fields all mushed up together and surrounded by a three-quarters vacant parking lot. A more welcome sight is seldom seen. Once the lights go down in a movie theater, we’re all alone anyway, so the absence of companionship isn’t missed. And this is no time for heartwarming or inspirational. The more ‘splosions, the better. The lower-common the denominator, the better. In-your-face-comedies and special effects vehicles are the order of the day. God bless Quentin Tarantino, for he hath given us both Jackie Brown and Django Unchained on Christmas Day. If it weren’t for the company of my Beautiful Bride, I’d be spending tomorrow with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio in The Wolf of Wall Street. Anything diverting. Anything to get the mind off. Anything to get attention away from the fact that you feel alien in your own home that day.
Christmas Day, 1999, I saw four movies back-to-back-to-back-to-back. And, yes, I paid for them all – no sneaking. I remember Galaxy Quest from that marathon, and I believe I was one of five people in North America to see Bicentennial Man and not demand his money back (I just didn’t have the heart). Followed it up with dinner at a Chinese restaurant, and went home that night thinking, “I made it. I survived America’s Family day without my Knucklehead.”
So, on behalf of all those who will be at the movies tomorrow because they need to be at the movies tomorrow, thank you. What you did for me during those lonely years, and what you will do for those quiet people who may not quite meet your eye at the ticket booth or concession stand is a beautiful and appreciated thing. You are likely to notice only the selfish and obnoxious, but I promise you, there will be those who unobtrusively walk by that you are rescuing from the holidays. You will not know who you provide aid and comfort to tomorrow. Thank you for your sacrifice. Thank you for your service. Thanks for showing up.
And if you’re one of us, smile, so we know you. You know what this means.