When Christmas is no holiday

FARMER FILER: Neil Filer will be sneaking out to milk the cows at 3:30am on Christmas Day.
FARMER FILER: Neil Filer will be sneaking out to milk the cows at 3:30am on Christmas Day.

For some Kiwis, Christmas is just another day at the office. Among those at work on Christmas Day this year are a midwife, firefighter, zookeeper, farmer and paramedic. SIOBHAN DOWNES finds out how they will celebrate.


One Dannevirke sharemilker is making sure you get "a nice bit of cream on your strawberries" come Christmas morning.

Neil Filer will be sneaking out at 3.30am to tend to the cows, trying not to wake his two excited children.

"They won't be going back to sleep otherwise!"

He hopes to have the job done by breakfast.

"We try and get going a bit earlier on Christmas Day, we milk the cows flat out and get back for Christmas with the kids."

If it had been a drier month he might have needed to feed out some silage, but this year is looking to be a good one, with plenty of grass, he says.

"It'll just be milk the cows, shut the gate and head home."

If there are any extra jobs that need doing throughout the day, his two children will come along for the ride on the farm.

But there will still be plenty of time for festivities.

"I like to cook a big feed too so I'll come home, open presents with the kids then get amongst it in the kitchen. Get the turkey going," he says.

"I think the neighbours are doing a hangi this year so I'll get to put a basket in."


We all know the story – Jesus Christ was born in a barn on Christmas Day.

But things might have been easier for Mary if a midwife had been around to help out.

Porirua midwife Kirsty Mitchell, of Endeavour Midwifery, will be on call this year, and has three babies due to arrive on December 25.

For Mitchell, that could make hosting Christmas Day difficult.

"I've got three children, my sister's got two littlies, and my parents are coming over, so I hope I don't get called, or there'll be an empty spot at the table!"

The midwife of 20 years says she is used to having to drop everything for her job, but there are some Christmas treats she will miss.

"When everybody's enjoying a glass of wine and eggnog, I can't – just in case I get called and have to drive," she says.

Christmas always feels a bit strange anyway for the British expat, who came to New Zealand 13 years ago.

"It's still not quite the same – people think pohutukawas and summer and think, 'yay, Christmas is coming'.

"Around mid-August when it's cold and dark I'm thinking 'yay, Christmas!'"


Christchurch firefighter Eric Pepperell will this year put in 10 hours at the station, working the 8am till 6pm shift in case you have any mishaps while cooking the Christmas dinner.

He's done it before, and is relatively unfazed about working on Christmas Day.

"It's usually pretty quiet," he says.

"It'll be a bit like a weekend day where you do the bare minimum."

The morning will start off with a meeting, a check that all the fire engines are in working order, and then waiting around for jobs, he says.

One task will be slightly out of the ordinary though – everyone will pitch in to help cook the Christmas lunch for all the firefighters on duty at the Kilmore St station.

After he hangs up the hose at the end of the day, he plans to head to his sister-in-law's house to spend time with family, including his 20-month-old daughter.

"This is the first Christmas with our young one that she can comprehend what Christmas is."


It's not uncommon to see chimpanzees unwrapping presents at Wellington Zoo on Christmas Day, life sciences manager Dave French says.

And the best present you can give a chimp? A tasty Christmas lunch.

"We try and give the animals a nice Christmas as well, all the keepers get creative and try to pass the Christmas spirit onto the animals."

French says he enjoys working on Christmas Day, and has done so every year since he started at the zoo 10 years ago.

As the zoo is closed to visitors he gets to spend more time with all the animals, and one thing he likes to do is take the two oldest dingoes for a walk.

"They're not a big fan of having crowds around, so when the zoo's nice and quiet it's a good chance for them to get out, it's a treat for them."

After the animals have been fed and entertained, French will head to his grandmother's house for dinner.

He says he's looking forward to spending time with all his different families – humans and animals.


For St John paramedics, Christmas Day is one of the busiest days of the year.

Out on the road this silly season will be Mark Deoki, territory manager for East Auckland.

"There's a big spike in demand, and it's a real busy time of the year," he says.

"A lot of people are celebrating, and they tend to be out there having a good time."

There is such a thing as too much of a good time – Deoki says he's worked "lots" of Christmases during his 20-year career with St Johns, and has seen it all.

Calls ranged from traffic accidents to overindulgence in food and alcohol, to mums and dads trying out the kids' new skateboards and falling off.

Welfare vehicles would be parked at hospitals making sure crew members had a chance to have a bite to eat and something to drink.

"There's lots of festive spirit out there, members of the public often try and feed you on calls or get you to take some Christmas cake. That's really nice."

While it can be difficult being away from family, helping others is worth it, Deoki says.

"It's a special day, and if someone needs us and we can make it better, that makes it more special."

Fairfax Media