GARDINER — While some families ate Christmas meals in their homes on Thursday, four firefighters on the Gardiner Fire Department’s B Shift spent the day gathered around a Christmas ham next to the glow of the lights from the station’s artificial tree.

“We try to celebrate the holidays together,” said Capt. Patrick Saucier, who has worked most Christmas Days over the last nine years.

On his shifts on holidays, he said tries to keep the celebrations family oriented, and the crew’s family members can stop by if they want. Saucier’s wife and 16-month-old son had visited the station to eat earlier in the day.

Saucier, a West Gardiner resident, said the crew is like another family to him. The department even has a line of 13 small stockings stuffed with scratch-off lottery tickets and other small gifts.

“We spend a third of our lives together,” Saucier said of his crew. “We do 24 (hours) on, 48 (hours) off.”

The crews also try to allow the firefighters with families to get some time off on the holidays, he said. When his son is a little older, Saucier said, another firefighter will probably fill in to let him spend Christmas morning with his family.

“For the guys with the young kids, we try to hold over, let them have Christmas morning, stuff like that,” Saucier said.

After lunch, the firefighters got a surprise visit from a Gardiner man and his grandson dropping off Christmas presents for the fire and police departments.

Mike Stoddard, 64, said his church, Pathway Vineyard Church in Augusta, gathered presents after the Christmas Eve service to drop off at local fire and police departments in the parishioners’ communities.

“Because they’re on duty and we’re not for Christmas,” Stoddard said.

His grandson, Carson Brigman, 7, handed the bag of presents to the police officer at the station before heading back home.

At Lucky Garden Restaurant in Hallowell, people who weren’t celebrating Christmas or wanted a less stressful holiday meal enjoyed buffet lunches with views of the Kennebec River.

Evelyn Knopf, of Augusta, and her mother fell in the latter category.

Knopf, 55, said she and her mother, Dorothy Knopf, have been eating at Lucky Garden Restaurant on Christmas for about the last five years. Dorothy Knopf, 87, used to live in the Cotton Mill Apartments across the street from the restaurant and now lives in Hillside Terrace, an assisted-living home in Hallowell.

“For a few years, I would try to do the dinner or Christmas brunch,” Evelyn Knopf said, “and that was all fine and well, but it was too much work for just a couple of people. We get to enjoy opening gifts, having nice conversation and enjoy each other’s company without being in the kitchen the entire time.”

Evelyn Knopf’s father, Dorothy’s husband, died in May, and Evelyn Knopf said she thought about cooking a Christmas meal this year. But she decided against it because she said it didn’t make sense to spend the whole time in the kitchen while her mother unwrapped presents. Going out to eat at a Chinese restaurant, one of the few places open on Christmas, allows them to enjoy the holiday instead of doing all the work associated with it, Evelyn Knopf said.

“There are fewer and fewer people to celebrate with, but we’ve got to make sure we celebrate,” she said.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig

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