Some of the best memories made when holidays come along are those spent with family.
But there are some people who don’t get to celebrate in the same way — at least not in the traditional sense — because of their job.
That’s especially true for police officers. So, to bring a little joy to the night shift in Flowery Branch, the police department is continuing a Christmastime tradition.
“I've worked many holidays at night,” said Bret Sweeney, an officer with the Flowery Branch Police Department who’s working day shift now. “It’s hard, but when you have a family that really supports you and rallies behind you, which a lot of these guys do, it makes it a lot easier. Of course, we would rather be at home with our families, but when you get into this job, this is a calling, and you've got to do what your called to do.”
The Flowery Branch Police Department is in its third year organizing a Christmas light competition for anyone who lives in the city limits. While officers are patrolling at night during the week of Christmas, they’ll drive by the residences that have submitted their houses for the competition and judge them. The final date for entering your home is midnight Dec. 17. There’s a prize for first place and the runner up.
The competition brings a nice change of pace for the officers.
“Sometimes, we're responding to less-than-favorable situations,” said Cy Allen, another officer with the police department who’s working the night shift. “So it's neat to be able to get out sometimes and it's about something other than what's going wrong. It's nice to be able to go out and see the lights. It reminds me of the Griswold’s family vacation.”
Whether you’re sitting around the fire with hot chocolate in hand reading the Christmas story from the Bible or you’re decorating the house with tinsel, lights, wreaths and trees, Christmas is arguably the best time of the year.
But for the night shift officers, it’s not always so merry. Driving around at night while many families are together can be tough, so they have to adjust.
“Sometimes, the rotation lands for you to work on the holiday and you've got to come in and do the job just like any other day,” Sweeney said. “But what we do to get around it is we'll move it and celebrate it another day that week.”
There are 11 houses signed up for the competition so far. Chris Compton, who’s been on night shift his entire career as a police officer, said he’s excited to drive around and see all the lights.
“I enjoy community-oriented policing,” Compton said. “It's part of the reason I got into this job. I enjoy making people happy and I enjoy serving the community, so it's just another opportunity to serve and have some fun with the people.”
Looking at all the lights takes him back to his childhood, too. It will bring back fond memories while he’s out on patrol around Christmas.
“We always pulled out all the stops at my house and we always drove around, neighborhood to neighborhood, when I was a kid and looked at everybody else’s Christmas,” Compton said. “I love Christmas. I love the joy Christmas brings to people and so anything that gets me more in the Christmas spirit or allows me to interact with people about Christmas, I'm excited about it.”
For Allen, Christmas has always been pretty tame. But that doesn’t mean he didn’t enjoy everyone else’s efforts as he was growing up.
“We never went all out,” Allen said. “Growing up, it was never anything huge. Usually we'd go to a family member's house and help them decorate, but never something big like this where we could enter a competition.”
Even if Allen couldn’t be a part of a competition back in the day, he and the rest of his night shift officers get to be a part of one as judges now. Sweeney said he hopes the competition continues to grow and brings a little extra happiness to the officers and the community during the holiday season.
“It makes it a lot better because when we're going through the holiday season, it's so easy to cruise through,” Sweeney said. “And sometimes, the guys who are working, it may be hard for them to find joy during that time because they'd probably rather be at home. But when you have something like this and you're able to drive around and look at lights, it’s just a little more fun.”