November has always been one of my favorite months of the year, despite the bad reputation it gets for the bare, leafless trees and the cold winds that serve as harbingers of winter. To me, November is all about celebrations.
When I flip up the October page of the calendar and stare at glorious November, a goofy grin appears on my face. The holiday season hath begun! I feel no compulsion to wait until Black Friday. I now feel license to put on the holiday music without feeling like an utter goofball. Granted, I’ve been known to do this in March or August if the mood strikes, but then then it’s a guilty pleasure. Now I can finally feel appropriate. And so I revel in the Home Alone soundtrack on my headphones, the precision of the orchestration so incredible that, if I close my eyes, I can see John Williams waving his baton at the horns and strings.
For me, November is a month of anticipation. As a kid, I would relish the approach of Thanksgiving, an opportunity to stuff myself with abandon. And right after that, we’d be celebrating my father’s birthday, and you know what that means. Cake!
Now that I am once again a member of the workforce, November is prized (at least by employees of the State of California) as the only month in which the calendar features three paid holidays. First, we have the day off for Veterans’ Day on 11/11, then we have not one, but two days off for Thanksgiving. This represents the only time of year at which I have four consecutive days off without the necessity of burning a vacation day. That’s just enough time to celebrate with my wife’s family here and then head down to the Central Valley to celebrate with my own family as well.
December may be feted as the premier holiday month, but we state employees have only a single paid holiday then, on Christmas Day. In every place I’ve worked, there has always been much discussion about the possibility of cadging days off for Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Some of my employers have allowed staff to leave two or three hours early on those days while being paid for the full day. A few have even expressed their holiday generosity by granting staff a half-holiday, a full four hours off. I’ve also worked in 24/7 businesses where such largesse is not possible. That’s when the jockeying for vacation days begins. Those with seniority put in for those days at the earliest possible opportunity. When I was a manager, I would have staff make weak attempts at reserving Christmas Eve off some six months in advance. I’d have to tell them to see me again in about four months or so.
This year, holiday scheduling turned up as a staff meeting subject back in September. It’s not the eves of Christmas and New Year’s that are the issues this time around, but the days after those holidays. The calendar informs me that Christmas and New Year’s each fall on a Thursday. That means that the corresponding Fridays are regular workdays. Hence, the mad scramble to lock down vacation days and secure two consecutive four-day weekends.
It seems to me that the logical thing to do in this situation would be to treat Christmas and New Year’s just as we do Thanksgiving: Give everyone a paid day off on the day after. Say “happy holidays” with the gift of a pair of long weekends and plenty of time to spend with family and friends.
The French have seen the wisdom of this course of action stretching back decades. Any time a public holiday falls on a Thursday, the next day is a holiday as well. They call this maneuver faire le pont (“making the bridge”) and refer to the extra day off as le jour férié (“the ferry day”).
I think the French have the right idea. We often call upon “bridges” and “ferries” not only as a literal method of making physical crossings between the mainland and the islands, but also as a metaphor for making connections between people in a multicultural, multilingual world. And as we approach the time of year when we bow our heads in thanks and celebrate the joys of family, I urge that more employers consider creating those bridges and ferries that will give their loyal employees the concentrated time off they need to recharge their batteries and remind themselves why they are working in the first place.