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What You Miss When You Don't Work on Christmas

Tickers in this article: FDX UPS

PORTLAND, Ore. ( TheStreet) -- My stepfather worked for FedEx from the mid-'80s until the beginning of this year, when he accepted a buyout and an early retirement. This is the first Christmas Eve he'll spend without clocking in, thus ending a family tradition of working on the holidays.

Only when compared to the FedEx, UPS and other delivery service employees working on Christmas Day itself does my stepfather's Christmas Eve routine of the last 25 years look ideal. He'd leave at roughly 2:30 a.m. and either deliver packages or direct those who did until just before the family showed up at 7 p.m. He'd have a glass of egg nog, give the toast at Christmas Eve dinner, have a bit of shrimp, crawfish or pierogi and then head straight to bed. By Christmas morning, he was rested enough to put down a bowl of shrimp and half a jar of cocktail sauce by himself, but it still took a while for him to get up to speed.

While it was clear he'd rather be anywhere but the terminal on Christmas Eve, I get a better understanding of why he went in 1995 -- when I took my first job in journalism as a newspaper sports intern at The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J. The National Basketball Association results, horse racing picks and transaction listings don't get a day off, and my first Christmas dinner away from home was spent cobbling together the sports section's agate page and failing miserably in doing so. I had only worked as a reporting and filing intern the summer before and got my trial by fire as a means of giving some of the other folks a night off.

It was terrifying, but it was great in its own right. That night the head of our sports desk, former Star-Ledger editor Rich Guenther, introduced me to the Italian Cheeseburger -- a three-patty burger on a hoagie roll coated in provolone cheese and a bit of marinara sauce and stuffed with french fries. It was served in a round aluminum container that caught excess cheese and fries and was a glorious holiday meal. It wasn't my grandmother's manicotti or my grandfather's candied yams, but it remains one of my favorite holiday meals.

On and off for the next decade, I was a Christmas worker. I'd willingly take my spot on the copy or pagination desk at the Jersey Journal in Jersey City or Herald News in what's now called Woodland Park, N.J. -- formerly West Paterson, for fairly specious reasons -- and enjoy a relatively light night of pre-packaged stories, the occasional police brief and one of the grandest traditions in newsroom or office holiday culture, the Christmas potluck. I replicated my grandmother's manicotti as best I could and, in return, received a spread of samosas, barbecue ribs, pudding, paella and other treats that would stuff the kitchenette fridge with enough leftovers for the next night's shift.