If you want to feel humbled by your own attempts at Christmas cheer, walk past Liam and Kim Dawson’s. Or better yet, take a walk and enjoy the real snow – this year a new snow machine is on order.
The Queenstown couple love Christmas. Wherever they lived, starting with their home in England, they pushed the boat out, earning a reputation for their Christmas displays. And for the past two years the exhibition has been held at Woodstock Road, Upper Shotover. You can’t miss it – even passengers arriving at Queenstown Airport after dark can see this one.
Liam Dawson, who is complex manager at Bunnings in Queenstown, says it takes the couple all weekend to settle in, starting on a Friday – and almost as long to put everything away afterwards.
The display includes approximately 8,000 low-voltage LED lights in a mass of different displays, a Christmas tree, 15 inflatable Santas, elves and reindeer, and nine projectors: “We have a projector projecting red and green dots like snowflakes, another projecting Christmas trees across the garage, and others broadcasting images all over the lawn.
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There is also music. More than half of the lights are connected to speakers, and Dawson has an app, so the lights can flash to the beat of the music (Mariah Carey is a goodie). “We can change it – the app has different modes and everything is interconnectable.”
Dawson says it all started in England, when the couple were decorating their home for their nieces and nephews. “Every year they had to come to Uncle Liam and Aunt Kim to see the lights. And it grew from that – and we continue to Facetime nieces and nephews so they can see it all here.
And it turns out Christmas decorating is contagious: “The first year [when they lived in Christchurch] we put up a screen, and it was just us. The following year, there were then 10 to 12 lit houses in the street. Here in Queenstown we can see other houses on the street now lighting up too.
The couple also lived in Blenheim, before moving to Queenstown, where their home was in a right of way. So they built a giant lighted arch at the top of the aisle, and each night they moved their Christmas “inflatables” and freestanding pieces into place under the arch and up the aisle.
Each year, their collection grows. “Bunnings has a new inflatable every year, so we always add another one. We also have three Christmas trees inside the house, one in the dining room, one in the kitchen and another in our bedroom.
They always set up the exhibit in mid-November. “We like to arrive early,” Dawson says. “That way we can get five to six weeks.”
The generosity of this couple is obvious. They do it because they like to share the festive joy. And Dawson admits it could be an English thing: “It’s pretty big there and everyone is going crazy.”
And last year, the festive cheer extended into Christmas Day, when the couple invited folks from Bunnings and Pak’n’Save into their home – people they knew were spending the day alone.
“We had 27 people here for a barbecue – people from different countries who don’t have family here.”
There couldn’t be a better setting. Dawson says even the dog Fudge is joining in the festivities. The fox terrier-poodle cross has several outfits, and antlers of course.
And then comes the time to take everything apart, and it’s a long process that you have to order, so as not to tangle the lights or confuse things.
“I am very demanding on the way I put things away. It should be easy to go back next year. You can’t just tear them up and put them in a box. They all go in sealed containers, and it takes as long as setting everything up.
But for now, the Dawsons’ exhibit draws people from all over the neighborhood, with a constant parade of cars from 8:30 p.m. to 11 p.m. every night.