In these weeks and days leading up to Christmas, with ever earlier annual promotional events, like A Night of a Thousand Candles taking place in different towns all over Oxfordshire, it is all too easy to get caught up in the excitement which such festive activity generates.
“Do you feel Christmassy yet,” I asked my friend, as on a rare night off, we strolled through a closed central Oxford street, taking in expressions of modern art at Oxford Winter Lights Festival, in the middle of November. Then there was the inevitable “yes, but is it really art?” discussion over at least one of the pieces.
Some towns like Abingdon and Wantage resist the temptation and their now long-established Christmas Extravaganza and Dickensian Evening events do not actually take place until the calendar has ticked over into December. There is comfort in the annual expression of this tradition on the streets where we live and work - and sometimes even play.
This will be my tenth Christmas plying for hire as a licensed Hackney Carriage driver in Vale of White Horse, in and around the towns of Abingdon and Wantage and the villages of East Hanney, West Hanney (or simply “East” and “West” as they are known locally) and all of the other unique communities which make this part of Oxfordshire as special as it is.
Proper taxi driving is unavoidably and inherently anti-social, because in order to make any kind of a living from it, you have to work when other people are wanting to socialise: Friday and Saturday nights, bank holidays, New Year’s Eve, Christmas.
That has never changed, but it can cause a problem for me, as I not only believe in the reason for the season, but actually make an attempt, often in a ham-fisted manner, at not only keeping the Sabbath day holy, but practising the faith day in and day out.
It pleased me greatly last Sunday, when what we call the Nicene Creed came up on the large screens at the front of church. It contains the line “For us and for our salvation he came down from heaven, was incarnate from the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary and was made man” and it is belted out by the entire congregation.
After all these years, I can say the creed and other parts of the service by heart. But not only that, the Bethlehem star, the angels, the shepherds, the virgin birth, the dirt and the straw: I believe in it all. And I have seen with my own eyes in The Holy Land the places where these events actually took place two thousand years ago, which are of course themselves not immune from the commercialisation of Christmas.
When we arrived in the heat of October a few years ago, I said to my friend, who is also a priest, that they had their Christmas decorations up already. “Welcome to Bethlehem,” she said, “where it is Christmas all year round.”
As published in the Herald Series on Wednesday, 28 November 2018
Church of England, Prayer and Worship, E Creeds and Authorized Affirmations of Faith, 2002 as retrieved 27 November 2018