Tourism at Christmas – A Plea From a Museum Worker

In Britain this year the media has started to report about the growing backlash over the commercial side of Christmas.

There is an online petition against opening shops on Boxing Day (Dec 26th,) when bargain hunters will ravenously scour the high street for discounts as early as 6am. the petition argues that the traditional January sales could start on Dec 27th (if not actually January) and that shoppers should have the patience to wait 24 hours so that retail workers (many of whom had to work Christmas Eve and face a deluge of unorganised gift buyers,) can have an actual break over Christmas. It doesn’t seem fair that retail workers have to work extended shifts on Christmas Eve and make do with a relatively sober early night on Christmas Day, facing a depressingly soulless and interminable day at work immediately after.

As far as I’m concerned, Christmas Eve is for watching The Muppet Christmas Carol with a large amaretto and cola and Boxing Day is for eating my way through a mountain of leftovers (let’s face it, sometimes better tham the orginal meal,) and playing Cluedo, all whilst watching my baby daughter ignore her new toys in favour of playing with the boxes they came in. None of which involves a commute, putting on a uniform and pointing people towards the toilets for eight hours; a prospect that will make me feel anything but festive.

So I can’t help but agree that shops (even the supermarkets) should stay closed on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day.

Even if you hate the Muppets or Cluedo (how could you though…) you will no doubt have your own valued traditions that you share with family and friends. Every festive song, advert and movie tells us we should aspire to the idyllic Christmas break with our loved ones, preferably all wearing comedy knitted jumpers. In fact the supermarket Sainsbury’s are cashing in on this wish with their 2016 advert, despite expecting their staff to work every day but the 25th, a hypocrisy that thankfully hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Some people will have to work over Christmas, this is inevitable. Doctors, nurses, firefighters, police officers et cetera all sacrifice their precious time with loved ones to keep us healthy/safe/alive. Is it right that people should sacrifice that same experience just because we can’t organise ourselves to buy gifts/food in advance and have lost the patience to wait for a bargain?

I’m pleased and not at all surprised to see the petition has already received enough signatures to ensure that the issue is debated in Parliament. 

I hope the petition succeeds because I sympathise with anyone in the retail sector who loses their quality family time. I also sympathise because museums stay open too.

We’re less numerous than our retail cousins but our plight is the same; we stay at the coalface so that others can have the family Christmas we are denied.

I’ve worked a lot of Christmas Eves and Boxing Days, and for what? So that people can show their families a castle/art gallery/stately home/exhibition as part of the ‘spending the festive season with loved ones’ tradition. I wonder how many visitors pause to think about the staff who are missing watching Christmas specials in their jammies, playing with the children/nieces/nephews, eating dangerous quantities of chocolate assortments and other cosy activities. 

Most museums are open every single day of the other 11 months, is it really necessary to visit on those two days? If your family are determined to leave the house, why not go for a walk in the forest, or on a beach, or around the park? See a landmark that doesn’t require staff to open, or simply walk around the pretty areas of your hometown in their oddly deserted state. 

The museum staff who decide to open on the 24th and 26th are not the employees who will actually need to be present on the 24th and 26th. I recall one Christmas Eve at a small-mid sized attraction where every single department manager booked themselves a holiday day whereas floor staff were told only two out of a team of twelve could have the day off. In the end the museum wedding planner was the only member of management staff on site all day, herself upset that after a full shift she would have to drive into the night to join her family in her hometown. In the end, about 15 staff in total had to work an eight hour shift on Christmas Eve for the sake of seven visitors who couldn’t think of anything better to do. 

Not that all museums see low figures on days such as this, I’ve also worked Christmas Eves where tickets have sold out and the galleries were full to bursting. At the end of those days I fell asleep in the car, exhausted as my husband (who was waiting patiently for me alone, at home,) drove us to see family. By the time we arrived we had missed dinner, dessert and most of the booze. Even our teeny nephews were already fast asleep and they’d tried their utmost to stay awake and peek at Father Christmas. 

I understand the desire to do something out of the ordinary to enhance the festivities and do something as a family, I’m not immune to that at all. I’m merely suggesting that this year and in the future people should consider what they do with a bit more care and thought.

Last Christmas was my first as a parent and as I was still on maternity leave I could enjoy a relaxed week without work.  I was desperate to do something lovely and visit somewhere picturesque as a family to make some memories. We chose to visit a castle on Christmas Eve, but we chose it because only the keep requires staff and the purchase of a ticket (shout out to my ticket desk/gift shop comrades…) We had a great time in a heritage setting without inconveniencing a soul, but I did feel a pang watching other families gleefully queue up for keep tickets, wondering how they could look the members of staff in the eye. Didn’t they realise that the warm welcome and customer-service bright smiles required so much extra effort that day? Couldn’t they hear that the “Merry Christmas!” from even the most professional of staff members sounded just a little melancholy, just a little hollow?

It is true that some people don’t mind working on the 24th or 26th, but these people in my experience are nearly as rare as unicorns. Neither should you assume that all visitor attractions offer staff double pay to soften the blow, or even time and a half. Some museum staff consider themselves lucky to be offered a day in lieu, nearly always compulsorily to be taken on a weekday in late January when their friends and families are back at their office jobs. 

Whether you’ve returned home and that Christmassy nostalgia makes you want to return to the places you went to as a child or you want to impress visiting friends and family by taking them to your local famous attraction, consider going on the 23rd, or even better in that awkward inbetweenie stage after Boxing Day and before New Year when even the most close knit families become sick of turkey sandwiches and get a bit of cabin fever. Museum workers are just as grateful as anyone to escape to work by the 29th! But keep the 24-26 sacrosanct. Let non essential workers spend their Christmas with their families, just like you are fortunate enough to. 

Museums, just like shops and restaurants, only started to shrink their Christmas break due to demand. So don’t demand it! Vote with your feet and stay at home by the tree with a plate of mince pies in one hand and a glass of something bubbly in the other. Eventually, museum directors will take the hint and close for more than a single day and their staff can celebrate properly.

Purchase your presents and booze in advance, buy enough food to last you a few days and leave your nearest tourist attraction alone.

We’ll see you in January!

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1 Comment

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One response to “Tourism at Christmas – A Plea From a Museum Worker

  1. Simon White

    Amen to that, why don’t we go the whole hog, as a country, demand that
    , emergency services apart, we close the country down for a national 3 day holiday. Christmas Eve could become a fantastic family prep day/party night, and Boxing day could be a get together/sloth day. I’m certain the whole country would feel a great deal happier if we just took 3 days off and all relaxed, and do whatever you feel like doing, guaranteed happy 3 days every year just to relax and take a breath, we could all do with it I reckon. Oh and Merry Christmas to you and your family, love the articles and always look forward to reading your insight and research.

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