IT’S beginning to look a lot like Christmas.
It starts with tinsel in the supermarkets and Santa appearing in adverts on TV.
But for many Australians the first real sign that Christmas is just around the corner comes with the flick of the switch of the Christmas lights.
Certainly, tis’ the season to be jolly, and what better way to get into the Christmas spirit than by taking a drive to look at the many houses that are illuminated.
On streets across Bendigo you can see houses gaily twinkling in the moonlight as neighbours gather on street corners throughout the festive season.
Even the most Grinch-like of people cannot help but be awed by the colourful displays.
Whether you marvel at the beauty of the lights or just stare in sheer wonder at the effort some people go to, it has become a Christmas tradition.
It all started in 18th-century Germany when upper-class homes used candles to decorate the Christmas tree.
The candles were glued to tree branches using melted wax.
It was not until 1882 that Edward H. Johnson, who worked for Thomas Edison, put the very first string of electric Christmas tree lights together.
Since then it has grown to epic proportions and has become commonplace to decorate not only your tree but your house, with whole neighbourhoods coming together to decorate streets.
Britain and Excell Streets in Long Gully are good examples.
You can see the glare of the streets from blocks away, and hundreds of people go to look at the displays every night with traffic backing up around the block.
One resident gave away over a thousand candy canes last year.
Bruce McCallum, who is acknowledged by the neighbours as the instigator of the Christmas spirit, said he is proud of what the neighbourhood is doing.
“This is my 18th year,” he said.
“We were the first on the street to do it, but every year it gets bigger.
“There are so many now doing it. I am very proud of what people in the area are doing to show their Christmas spirit.”
There are so many now doing it. I am very proud of what people in the area are doing to show their Christmas spirit.
Neighbour Rosemary Bailey said everyone helps each other.
“The first year we had just moved we were bah humbugs.
“Bruce came over and we explained we didn’t have any lights, we had only been there four months. But he said don’t worry and the next day he gave us two crates of lights.
“He’s a sweetheart.
“Last year I think Bruce did up six houses.
“We all help each other.
“We have been doing it for nine years now. I love it.
“What motivates me are the children.”
Cara Fahy agrees the kids love it.
“It is just good fun,” she says.
“It makes you remember what you liked as a child. We always went and saw the lights as a kid.
“I think it reinforces it is Christmas.”
Certainly you would be forgiven for thinking you had arrived at the North Pole as you approach Margaret and Rick Thomson’s house on Lethebys Street in Sailor Gully.
It is the epitome of a Santa’s grotto with lights, a bubble machine, a laser and no shortage of imagination.
Rick even used a crossbow to set up a pulley system to hoist a Santa way up into one of the gum trees behind the house.
The couple, who have been decorating their home for 10 years, do it to raise money for charity.
“We collect money for Make a Wish for the kids,” says Rick.
“The picture we have is of a boy called Luke who wanted to be a pirate for the day. It just breaks your heart.
“In 2011 we raised $1600 for Make a Wish and we are hoping to beat it.
“This year is our last year as it is getting too much.
“It started off with the grandkids, we had half a dozen lights and a couple of thousand later here we are.
“It got that big we do it every two years.
“I started setting it up on November 1 and it is up for about two and a half months.
“Because we are out of the way a bit the competition with the Bendigo Advertiser lets people know where it is.
“It is absolutely brilliant to see the kids’ faces and talk to the parents.”
Margaret says she loves seeing the little kids’ faces.
“We had a little girl who was crying in the car for 10 minutes because she wanted to come back and there was another little boy who kept saying mum one more minute.
“We are certainly going to miss it.
“It is a lot of work but we love it.”
Julian Way resident Jude Connor, who has been putting lights up on her house for 28 years, says it has become a hobby for her now.
“It started when my kids were little.
“I did it to watch my kids and then my grandkids, and the generations.
“I love to watch the people who come to have a look.
“It gives everyone that warm feeling.”
Certainly people seem to love it.
Belinda Filbey says she brings her children to look at the lights every year.
“I think it is fun for the kids and the grownups,” she said.
“My daughter Aaliyah loves it.”
In affirmation of this two-year-old Aaliyah Spicer said the word “pretty” for the first time while looking at the glittering decorations.
Her father Robert Spicer said it was all about the kids being happy.
“My favourite part of Christmas is the lights,” he said.
Grandmother Myrtle Darby also said it was a Christmas tradition for her family.
“We come every year,” she said.
“It is so bright and festive.”
Another onlooker Stephanie Jelbart said it was just a joy to see.
“It is the amazement of the effort that gets put in,” she said.
“Each year it gets bigger. It is unreal.”
It certainly adds a little bit more magic to the festive season which is all about getting together and spreading joy.
For those that light up their houses every year or those that make a point of going to look at what others have done, it has become a tradition.
It may be a little kitsch or over the top at times but that’s Christmas.
The little kids love it. And the big kids too.