Light in the darkness

Oxford’s equivalent of the soap star switching on the Christmas lights is a very different and rather magical affair. After dusk, people start to walk or bus towards the centre, and the first difference between today and yesterday is that the Christmas lights are on. No fanfare, no fuss, just on.

I was with the friend I’ve been teaching with all week, joined by MariainWales (whose evocative montage of images from the evening is here) and Old Herbaceous. First, we watched children process through the streets - closed to traffic for the night - with the delicate wicker and tissue paper lanterns they’ve been making in school over the last few weeks. This year a glowing paper Morris car marked the 50th anniversary of the death of the William Morris who started his working life in Oxford repairing bicycles and ended it making cars (not the William Morris who designed fabric). A white witch and a winged horse followed, marking the 50th anniversary of the death of CS Lewis.

This 4-metre pillar of fire, made from industrial glass fibre matting, was warm and soft to the touch. People were posting their hopes and dreams into a small slot in the side. Perhaps to be carried to where some greater force might make them come true; or perhaps, like many hopes, to be consigned to a fiery death.

There were more activities, on and off the streets, than anyone could fit into an evening and all the museums were open late with activities and food and drink. We could have climbed church towers, gone on fairground rides, listened to music on an open-air stage, cooked pizzas in a wood-fired oven... But we went to the Pitt Rivers Museum where with small torches we walked in darkness and central African rainforest music to find what we could in the display cases. It’s extraordinary how differently you see things with only a small circle of light to help.

Light in the darkness. To celebrate.

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