For the first time this year, we were present in the town when the Christmas lights were switched on, and so decided to actually see what happened. In previous years we’ve contrived—unintentionally, I promise you—to be away, or merely unaware. As with most town events, publicity is execrable and mostly predicated on the concept of “well, if you live here, you ought to already know how it all works.”
K. and I walked into town just for the apparent start time of 6pm: we learned from someone on Twitter that the light switchon was always at the start of the 6–8pm slot. Weirdly, many of the lights were already on, including sparse balls of white LEDs dangling from the trees along the High Street: my particular favourites, etherial and fireworky-dramatic at the same time. But the focal point of the decorations was intended to be the big Christmas tree by the Buttercross, and that was still resolutely unlit, with a cable tracing a roundabout route into to a suspiciously jury-rigged box with a plunger attached.
The ceremony, for want of a better word, was decidedly odd. A local vicar—I’m not sure, but possibly the one who tries to be called by his first name—made a neither welcome nor welcome intervention when he stepped forward blessed the town. Thanks! This was closely followed by the mayor, decked out in a Regulation Tory Blonde Bob, showing everyone how incapable she was of using a microphone properly, talking over the top of it like she was trying to cool her tea down by blowing on it.
The only part worth attending, really, was the actual switch-on of the lights. Unlike most years, it was neither a local “celebrity” nor a local Tory grandee that oiled their way onto the platform, but a bluff old gentleman: a D-Day veteran of 91 years of age who out-charmed everyone else present. His mic technique wasn’t much worse than Blonde Bob’s, although she did insist on repositioning the microphone in his hands in a way that she’d singularly failed to do in her own. And when, with a spark in his eye, he threatened to go off on a long rambling story, Blonde Bob failed to see that spark, and very nearly panicked and took the microphone off him entirely.
After the countdown, the remaining lights were all illuminated as planned, despite the plunger being plunged too early (to no effect, then: I thought so!) and the tree did look rather lovely:
There are animals, fairies and other concoctions hidden deep in the branches, making it an ornament that bears close, and then closer, attention.
All of that aside, the best part of the entire evening was being able to walk along the streets without being hassled by cars. This was the Christmas miracle, the relinquishing of control—briefly—from the selfish, destructive power of private motorized transport. People wandered around, warily at first, but then blithely as the reality took hold. Children skipped from the coal-powered steam engine, over to the fire engines or the fairground rides, without being in danger of their very lives in doing so.
K. and I wandered home after a while, but I imagine that eventually 8pm rolled around and—well, if you lived here, you’d know it was going to happen—West Oxfordshire’s Glorious Car-Oriented Future poured back in, rolling over the fun, and extinguishing any hope for better alternatives. But the tree—indeed, the trees—would have continued to blaze on with their own lights. Have your petrol-powered season in the sun, they might have been saying. We can wait.