Christmas Day brought celebrations around Orange County, but for some workers, it was business as usual.

Police, firefighters and hospital staff know they'll be working at least some holidays throughout their careers. And while most shops and businesses were closed Tuesday, restaurants are increasingly finding success with Christmas Day menus. Eateries from fast food to fine dining served up meals to families looking for holiday eats without the cleanup.
In the emergency room at UCI Medical Center in Orange, the staff caught up after a busy morning. In the 12 hours between midnight and noon, they treated 150 patients, including five critical cases.

Dr. Daniel Yanni was the neurosurgeon on call, supervising residents and staying available for surgery. Doctors trade off holiday shifts.

This year, he's fit in holiday celebrations as he can. Plans for a Christmas Eve dinner were interrupted by an unexpected spinal surgery. Untreated, a wrong movement by the patient could have resulted in paralysis, Yanni said. The surgery went well, however, and the patient was expected to be released later Christmas Day.

An unpredictable schedule is part of the job, he said, and caring for patients is worth it – in particular during a season of giving.

"Really making a difference in their lives is the holiday," he said.

In the emergency room, Christmas morning brought car accidents, transfers of patients needing UCI's trauma capabilities and a heart attack, as well as everyday maladies such as fevers.

"It's always busy here," said Sylvia Chavarria, 53, who has been a nurse at the hospital for 25 years.

Christmas trees and a Menorah decorated the nurses' station, and the staff showed its holiday spirit with colorful socks, blinking necklaces and Santa hats. To keep the mood festive, the nurses planned a potluck in the break room.

Mostly, though, the sights and sounds of the ER were typical. Families waited nervously with their loved ones.

"It's just not a fun place to be, no matter what day it is," said Barbara Kaess, a nurse at UCI for 23 years. "We're happy to help."

At another 24-hour operation, the stakes weren't as high, but holiday workers still took their service seriously.

Employees at Denny's on South Bristol Street in Santa Ana prepared for holiday crowds. Nationwide, Dec. 25 has been the 24-hour chain's busiest day for the past two years. More than 1.5 million people stopped by last year for the classic Grand Slam breakfast or a traditional turkey dinner.

During the busiest parts of the day, usually midmorning and evening, the Bristol Street location serves about 140 people every hour. Customers are happy so the atmosphere stays festive, said Robert Acevedo, franchise operations manager. Servers can see double their usual tips around the holidays, he said, and then there's the occasional windfall. A few days ago at another location, a server waited on a military officer. As a tip, the officer left behind a prescratched lottery ticket worth $1,000.

"That's the kind of experience you see around the holidays," he said.

Maria Leyva, 25, has been a server at the restaurant since it opened about two years ago. The staff has become like a family, she said, and she looks forward to seeing her regular customers around the holidays.

"It's fun," she said. "We're all into the Christmas spirit."

Around the restaurant, servers in Santa hats refilled coffee, cooks fried eggs, and dishes clattered in the back. A Christmas tree shiny with ornaments decorated the entry, and hosts energetically called out holiday greetings to customers.

Like many of the restaurant's customers, manager Rolando Clavero, 60, did much of his celebrating on Christmas Eve. On Christmas Day, he was excited to come in for the holiday crowd. By 10 a.m., the restaurant had seen police officers, couples and many families, some dressed in holiday finery and others carrying toddlers in pajamas. Seeing the mix of people at the restaurant, from infants to grandparents, is part of the fun, Clavero said.

"You feel like you never left home."

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