“O, little town of Bethlehem,” said my devoutly Sikh taxi driver. “How still we see thee lie. Above thy deep and . . .” (I chimed in from the back seat, providing the elusive word) – “dreamless – thank you – sleep, the silent stars go by. Yet, in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting light; the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight. That was my favorite one when I was a child.”
“You have a good memory,” I said.
“Oh yes, I still know the words to all the Christmas carols. My children think it’s hilarious. But we sang them every year at school, you see.”
I certainly did see. It was Advent of 2019 and we were idling in traffic in the middle of Birmingham, traveling out of the city from the rail station. Seeing I was a religious sister, my driver had wanted to tell me all about his memories of the Christmas carols he had learned at primary school. Within a couple of minutes we were singing along together – after “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” we moved on to “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing” and “Silent Night” – while waiting for the lights to change. A disinterested observer may have found it a strange sight: a woman in a habit and a man in a turban, in a highly secular country, singing Christmas carols. But I was not at all surprised. After all, the childhood memories of my taxi driver – memories of being a non-Christian child immersed in the music of a faith that was not my own, and shaped by it in ways beyond my understanding – were my childhood memories too.