We all know the importance of being with family and friends on Christmas. By early evening on Dec. 25, your friends on Facebook will have posted hundreds of pictures of happy gatherings, turkey dinners, and cousins they haven’t seen in ages. People have been rushing to complete work projects because no one really wants to work during this time. I can’t blame them a bit. We know, though, that in the real world a lot of people are required to punch a time clock on Christmas Day, and this is a salute to them. The world slows down for Christmas, but it doesn’t shut down. Military people here and around the world will still stand guard to make sure we are safe. Cops will be on patrol because crime doesn’t take a holiday off. Firefighters and 911 operators will be on the job, and inevitably they will be needed. Doctors and nurses will be on duty in emergency rooms and hospitals. Editors, press workers, and delivery folks will have to produce newspapers and get them to driveways on time. Workers at power companies will make sure the electricity is on to cook your Christmas dinner. Hotel workers will still cater to people who need to be away from home. Pilots, flight attendants and airport workers will get last-minute travelers where they need to go — sometimes just in the nick of time. I have first-hand knowledge of this. During my previous life as a sports columnist, I drew the short straw one year and wound up in Cleveland covering the a mediocre Buccaneers team on Christmas Eve. Writers didn’t fly on team charters, so everyone in the traveling press corps began checking flight schedules as soon as we saw where we are going to be. A flight left around 7 p.m., barely three hours after the game would typically end. It would connect in Charlotte and get us home in time for Christmas. The Bucs cooperated, winning 22-7 that day in 2 hours, 51 minutes — practically break-neck speed for a pro football game. There was cheering in the press box about that, for sure. The post-game interviews were quick and to the point because the players wanted to get home, too. Everyone wrote with extra speed and we made it to the airport with time to spare. Christmas Eve is upon us again and the Bucs have another road game. They’re in Charlotte for Sunday’s game. I hope everyone gets home on time. Unfortunately, the Oakland Raiders or the people who travel with them won’t have that option. The NFL scheduled them to play on Christmas night in Philadelphia. Boo! The National Basketball Association decided years ago that it was a good idea to schedule several games on Christmas Day. That just seems wrong. I can be as cynical as the next guy, except maybe for Dan Ruth; he’s a pro. But at the risk of going full Hallmark Channel, I wish there were one day when everyone could just shut it down, take a deep breath, and decide there are more important things than watching LeBron James play basketball. Alas, that’s how things work these days. There is always some person in a suit who looks upon Christmas Day as a marketing opportunity and decides the pursuit of the almighty dollar trumps turkey and stuffing at grandma’s house, no matter how many people have their holiday disrupted. If you are one of those, I hope at least that you volunteered and will receive double holiday pay. But if not — especially if your job is about protecting, serving, and helping others — all I can say is thank you. And Merry Christmas.