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How to make your holiday shifts a bit more festive

Working your first Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday shift as a nurse can be tough. It’s doesn’t seem fair working holidays when most people have these days off. But “most people” aren’t a nurse.

Nurses generally work a set number of holidays each year – so you could end up working Christmas and New Year’s one year, and the next year you’ll be off. Each unit develops guidelines for how holidays will be covered. In a union environment, schedules may be influenced by seniority.

Healthcare never stops

Many people look forward to the holiday season to spend time with friends and family, and associating December with tradition, and cheerfulness. For others - particularly healthcare workers, it might be difficult to view the holidays with the same joy. Nursing work schedules might mean missing some festivities.

Although not everyone observes December holidays, most nurses working holiday shifts experience high levels of stress. Nurses may need to work extra hours due to staff shortages or deal with busier shifts, as emergency hospital visits can increase during the holidays.

There are however ways to help navigate the season pressures, and you may even find that you enjoy it!

You’re not alone

The first thing to remember is that you won’t be the only one who is missing out on the holidays at home. Healthcare never stops, and you will always be surrounded by many other nurses, doctors, and members of the healthcare team. 

Prepare a meal for your Christmas shift colleagues

For many, food provides comfort and brings people together. If you want to make your team feel special while they’re away from their loved ones, a great solution is to bring food. Christmas is about the gift of giving. If you’re in the spirit of giving, you could bring in a holiday favourite to share with your colleagues. Each person can bring their favourite snack or side to create a meal.

Get together with friends and family before/after your shift

No matter how or what you’re celebrating, being with family is possibly one of the best ways to spend the holidays.  Coordinate to gather with your loved ones on your off day, or even before/after your Christmas shift.

Celebrate with your work family

Since you’ll be missing out on festivities at home, you could engage with your colleagues by having fun on shift – this could be dressing up, bringing snacks, and participating in Secret Santa to keep up with the Christmas spirit.

Partaking in fellowship and having fun also helps the shift go by faster. So, if you are able to wear festive scrubs or accessories, do it!


Something as simple as decorations on the hospital floor or nurses' station can brighten everyone’s mood. Many nurses spend more time on the clock than off, so coming to a work environment where people are participating in the holiday spirit can make all the difference.

This gives patients and staff something to look forward to!

Make plans for your holiday pay

Extra pay is one of the benefits to working the holidays. You may want to consider planning a vacation or treating yourself to a spa day. This will help motivate you to head to work with a positive perspective.

Booking some time off for self-care is important for nurses to help prevent burnout. Even if it’s a staycation, anything is better than working.

If you are working this holiday season, we truly appreciate the sacrifices you are making and the dedication you have to caring for others.