words & images: Leanne Gichard

Nestled off Alford Forest Road is a treasure trove of sheer delight.  If you turn left at the Bridge Club sign and follow your nose a Christmas light extravaganza will unfold before your very eyes.  It is bright, it is beautiful, and it is magical! 

Every year David and Margaret Van Tongeren selflessly spend 17 weeks preparing their home for public display.  “We have been collecting Christmas decorations for around two and a half years now and add more every year,” David explains. “Our son introduced us to Christmas Hut in Christchurch and that really took the display to the next level.  I think he may now regret that move, as without him, we couldn’t get all these Christmas decorations up!  We also buy decorations from Bunnings, Mitre 10 Mega and TradeMe to name just a few.”

This is no ordinary display. There are over 100 Christmas trees, ten of them large; a life size Santa and Mother Claus; toy trains that whistle and weave their way around the house; there are baubles, bells, angels and a cheeky inflatable Santa that opens a door and pops out to surprise you in the back yard.  Every conceivable space is decorated with stunning lights – lights that flash in colour sequences, icicles dripping from the spouting, even the roof is covered in fairy lights and reindeer.  There are over 10,000 multi-coloured bud lights on one tree alone!  A waterfall of lights cascades into a lake.  All the fences and garages are decorated too.  I won’t spill all the beans – let’s keep some surprises just that!

So what started this journey?  “Our main motivation was to bring joy and happiness to others,” David says.  It makes all the hard work worthwhile when the first child walks around the corner and goes ‘Wow!’  To see the look on their faces – they just beam and many come back night after night to soak it all up. That’s our reward – it’s priceless,” he says.  “We had over 21,000 visitors last year,” Margaret adds.   “We open on 1 December and try to turn the lights off on 1 January, but we often get people knocking on the door after that date.”  And this really is a labour of love, as their home is open every night of December from around 8.30 p.m. to 11.00 p.m.

David installs the lights on the roof, but his son installs the lights higher up.  Inside is just as magical.  When asked if they intended to keep adding to the collection Margaret said, “Yes, but we need a bigger house!”

So, release your inner child, bundle up the kids and head off to visit this remarkable home at 77 Alford Forest Road and prepare to be amazed!  Entry is by gold coin and all money raised is donated to charity.

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Judy McAuliffe is a writer, and publisher Essence Mid Canterbury. Her experience in media is extensive and includes approximately 15 years as Creative Director for The Radio Network, writing, and managing the writing of radio advertising, mainly in Invercargill and Greymouth. In the late 1990’s she transferred to Christchurch, moving into an Account Management role with 91ZM. In 2007 she and a business partner set up Essence Mid Canterbury, very quickly adapting her radio-writing skills to print media. Judy became sole owner of Essence Mid Canterbury in June 2014. Judy is a ‘people person’ and has found her niche writing feature stories about the community she lives in and the people who live there. She is also available for freelance writing assignments.