Enduring love of Christmas decor

23:39, Dec 11 2012
Jude Streeter
Joy to the world: Even though Jude Streeter has a rare neurological disorder which affects her co-ordination and eyesight, she still loves to decorate her home and garden every year for Christmas. She allows people to view her home and this year used the event as a way of raising money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand.

Jude Streeter loves spreading Christmas cheer, especially by decorating her home with festive embellishments and opening it up for people to enjoy.

It's a tradition she has kept for the past decade, even though she suffers from spinocerebellar ataxia, a rare genetic neurological disorder that affects her co-ordination, eyesight, swallowing and even breathing.

Jude was only diagnosed four years ago but doctors said she has had the condition for about 10 years.

Jude Streeter
Christmas spirit: Jude Streeter has a great eye for design, which shows in the way she decorates her home and garden for Christmas.

"It took about 18 months to two years for doctors to diagnose me because it is such a rare condition."

She said that she experienced a sense of grief and relief when finally diagnosed.

"I at least knew what the problem was and I have decided that although it is a part of me it isn't going to control my life. I am going to do my best to control it."


Festooning her house with all manner of elaborate Christmas decorations and lights used to be a task she could complete in a few days but as her condition has progressed she has had to allow more time to finish the work.

"I now give myself about four weeks before the open night when I show the house. I have some great friends and family who help me out a lot with getting things ready and taking them down afterwards," she said.

Many of the decorations are made by herself and her family and friends as Jude's condition has affected her hand-eye co-ordination more each year.

Her love for Christmas decorating began when she worked as the promotions manager at the former Centre Point Mall in Blenheim's town centre.

During the festive season she was in charge of decorating the mall as well as arranging a parade; loving the reaction from patrons, especially children.

The parade was later given to Marlborough 4 Fun which now runs the hugely popular annual Christmas parade in Blenheim.

"I still remember the one year this little girl who really loved all the decorations. She came up to me and said, ‘This is the best Christmas ever'. I mean, that is what is was all about," said Jude.

She later moved to Marlborough Girls' College where she worked as director for the international students.

It was during this time that she became aware of the symptoms that led to her diagnosis.

"I was overseas with some of the students and called home and left a message on the answering machine. When I got home and heard it, it sounded like I was drunk; it was then that I realised something was going wrong with my speech."

Her ability to talk and walk were most affected but through speech therapy and regular exercise she has seen some improvement and no longer needs a walking stick.

There is no cure or treatment for spinocerebellar ataxia, which becomes worse over time leaving sufferers to manage the symptoms.

But Jude hasn't let her condition stop her from living her life to the full and although she no longer works, events such as her Christmas-decorated home are given no less attention and effort than they have always had.

"She is really talented and has an excellent eye for design and detail," said one of her long-time friends, Kimberly Judd.

"She is also a great motivator; we used to serve on the Rapaura School fundraising committee and she was so good at getting people to help out."

Cindy March, another long-time friend who was at Jude's open home to admire her Christmas decorations, said she was an inspiration to all her friends.

"I still love doing my house up and having people over. It might take me a bit longer but I love to see the way people enjoy it," Jude said.

She opened her home to invited guests last Friday with a gold coin donation going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association of New Zealand which has given her significant support since her diagnosis.