I used to work all of the holidays because I didn't have any family in town and I wanted to give the other waiters and waitresses a chance to spend as much time with theirs as they could on those days. One Thanksgiving, I had stayed all the way through the day shift and halfway into swing when I finally was cut, and I decided to take myself out to dinner at a buffet and have my own celebration. I arrived at the restaurant about a half hour before closing, but I didn't feel too guilty since it was a buffet and I wasn't gonna be camping. What I hadn't taken into account was that most of the food was gone! I would have been so much better off going home alone than trying to convince myself that I was actually celebrating anything. The meager scraps of pressed turkey and crusty bits of dressing made me lonelier than ever for my family.
After that experience, I had a new motive for working on the holidays. I was determined that each person I waited on on Christmas and Thanksgiving (not all the time ... I wasn't a fanatic!) felt valued and noticed. I still covered the shifts, but I wasn't just doing it for my co-workers anymore. I've always liked to feel necessary, and there were so many customers who were eating alone on those days. Now I knew what it felt like to be invisible in a crowd of people on Thanksgiving.
Eventually, there was a diner I worked at exclusively on Thanksgiving and Christmas, whether I pulled any other shifts for them or not. For about seven years, I committed to serving holiday meals there and got to know people over time and establish my regulars. It was almost like visiting family. I've got some great memories of those shifts. Heart-wrenching, in some ways. There were some customers who were so frail, I wondered if they would make it the next year and serving them what might be their last holiday dinner was a real honor. I think about some of them still .... an elderly woman who dressed to the Nines, so polite and soft-spoken, who loved the cherries in the Waldorf salad, so I always made sure she had extra .... a couple, one of whom had wasting syndrome and could barely swallow who held hands while they ate ... I'm glad I got to be the one to be certain that they got the best we had to give.
It made me feel good when people told me it was their "best ever" or how much my service meant to them, and I didn't feel the pressure on those days to work for tips. It's too bad I didn't have that attitude every day, and I don't really know why I didn't. So much of my feelings about waiting were affected by how I chose to look at the situation. I'm thankful I had at least two days out of the year when I chose to feel glad to be a waiter.