At Hospice Marlborough, Christmas has started early.
Wreaths of deep green with combinations of sparkly blue and silver or red and gold hang on the doors and walls.
An enormous Christmas tree near the nurse's station is a sumptuous red and gold, lights twinkling from deep within the boughs from which hang baubles and ribbon. Many versions of Father Christmas and other yuletide characters grace the hallways, while Santa and his sleigh ride high on a ledge above a desk.
In contrast to these classic Christmas colours, the tree in the family lounge is multicoloured to appeal to the children, while the tree in the adjoining "quiet room" features white, green and gold to reflect the peaceful nature of the space. Flowers complete the effect.
The decorations have all been carefully placed and thought about by three women who share a passion for the season: Ann Betts, Jonel Clemett and Pip Griggs.
It was at the hands of these decorators that the hospice was turned into a Christmas wonderland in the lead-up to the organisation's biggest fundraiser, the biennial Pre-Christmas Peek tour. This year, eight private homeowners will be showing their decorated houses, plus one winery.
Ann says she was asked to open her home for the tour but was unable to, so instead agreed to volunteer her decorating expertise to the hospice directly. She quickly enlisted her "talented friends" Jonel and Pip and the three began planning their approach.
Ann says they were lucky enough to be donated many beautiful and large Christmas characters by Blenheim woman Shirley Horton. Hospice Marlborough already had some of their own decorations and Christmas quilts and others donated homemade decorations such as felt stars. After gathering materials, the women met at Ann's house to collate, create and bounce ideas off each other. They made little Christmas trees for each hospice patient room, then spent three to four hours at the hospice for three nights to get the decorating done.
For these three women, Christmas cannot come fast enough each year, says Ann, and they like to get their decorations up early so they can get the most enjoyment possible out of them.
Years of decorating experience means they have plenty of original ways of creating something new each year using everyday materials and not spending a fortune.
Jonel, a florist, uses netting to make bows and found ordinary ribbon made for a great tree decoration. A cheap can of spraypaint can easily transform an old decoration, a stripped branch or a pine cone into something new, she adds.
Ann has built up her decoration collection over many years, a tradition she is passing on to her grandchildren by gifting them a new piece each year. She also has items from her childhood that still make it out of the boxes each year.
Her advice for tree decorating is to push the lights in between the branches, towards the trunk, so they do not hang on the edge of the tree. That way, when surrounded by all the other decorations, the lights twinkle from within the depths of the branches.
Above all, say Ann and Jonel, don't take decorating too seriously and risk getting bogged down: "Just get started and have some fun and be creative."
Use colours that reflect your personality, says Ann, be it turquoise or red, add sea shells or anything else that creates a theme.
Get the children involved too, for instance by making simple but colourful paper chains, says Jonel.
"It's about having some enthusiasm," she says.
Hospice Marlborough volunteer co-ordinator and house manager Trish Holdaway says staff and clients alike have reacted to the decorations with a "wow".
In the past, it fell to her and Hospice Marlborough manager Beth Tester to decorate: "It was not as good as this," she laughs.
"The staff are delighted. At the moment we are down on patient numbers in here but the staff have been most impressed and it is certainly getting them into the Christmas mood," Trish says.
Hospice Marlborough needs about half a million dollars to operate each year, just 63 per cent of which is funded by the Nelson Marlborough District Health Board.
The 2010 Pre-Christmas Peek tour raised $22,700 and Beth and Trish are hoping for an even more successful event this year. Eight houses plus Auntsfield Winery will be opening their Christmas-themed doors this year for up to 1000 visitors split into two groups on the self-drive tour.
Along the way there will be food and raffles or the chance to have a garden picnic.
Participants will receive a map so they can drive themselves to houses at their leisure.
- The Marlborough Express