This will be my tenth Christmas driving a taxi on the byways and highways of Oxfordshire. For much of that time, there has been a sort of headlong rush towards the day itself, trying to fit in as much work as is physically possible, before the inevitable downturn in trade, which occurs every January, not picking up again until March.
Such is the seasonality of work as a self-employed owner operator in the taxi business. There has been the odd Christmas Day which I have been able to take as a holiday, one even in a far off place, but mostly, as this year, I am to be found plying my trade as usual on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day.
If I want to take time off, to go travelling, or for any other reason, then it is not just the cost of the event itself, but the lost income which has to be covered. There is no holiday pay for the self-employed.
In the darkness of winter this week, on my way to work before it had even got light, out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of an illuminated poster on a bus shelter headed “the spirit of Christmas” It was selling some kind of commercial product, popular in this season.
Then, cutting through the back streets of Headington to avoid traffic, where the taxi and bus lane runs out, five minutes later, high on a busy suburban junction, a huge illuminated Nativity set, with figures of Mary and Joseph and a shepherd, though the baby was missing from the manger. Seemingly floating in the sky, but in reality on a pole high above the stable was a huge star, flashing on and off, in blue and white light.
Later that morning, trudging wearily around Wantage town centre, lost in my own thoughts of tiredness, lost love, and of projects over running into Advent, I came across a host of angels at the feet of King Alfred’s statue, his head sticking up above the curtain of lights which cover the middle of the Market Place.
Knitted by members of Wantage Methodist Church, the angels had been left there, with messages of love attached, for anybody who wanted them, although by the time I had been to the coffee shop for breakfast and back again, they had all disappeared!
All of these things are literal lights in the winter darkness, but they are also symbolic of the one who is referred to as the light of the world. Born in a stable in Bethlehem, killed on a cross in Jerusalem, died and rose again - to save us from ourselves. The ultimate act of love.
And in the world of advertising, what is described on an Oxford bus shelter as the spirit of Christmas is not that at all, but can be seen in the thousands of small acts of love and kindness which are shown in the Oxfordshire community every day.