OPINION: There is one sure way to know that Christmas is getting close when you live in New Plymouth.
A week or two before the big day, thousands of Taranaki people flock to the TSB Bowl of Brooklands to watch Christmas at the Bowl. On Sunday night, the Bowl came alive once again.
This iconic Taranaki landmark was bathed in sunshine when the gates opened at 5pm and, as usual, hundreds of families armed with chilly bins and picnics spread out on the lawn to enjoy the evening's festivities.
While other communities around the country may have similar occasions, few, if any, can boast a venue that nature created and man enhanced.
Now a firm Taranaki tradition, Christmas at the Bowl had modest beginnings, but like most good ideas, it flourished over time. Almost 20 years ago neighbouring Pukekura Park was the original venue for Christmas Carols held by Youth for Christ. That proved so popular that organisers needed a larger venue, but the solution was simple - next door at the Bowl was perfect.
Backed by the New Plymouth Brass Band, the enlarged production became Christmas at the Bowl at its inaugural production in 1999. The focus was very much on families and the spirit of Christmas, captured nicely by the organisers refusing to charge an entry fee and instead opting for a gold-coin donation.
With the rampant commercialism of Christmas it's an expensive time for most families, and clearly the organisers' policy reflects that. The inherent wisdom behind the event is further evidenced by its commitment to showcase Taranaki talent.
There are also special guest appearances, free carol books, candles and candleholders for all, and that ensures the evening becomes one of participation rather than just watching passively.
Given the huge amount of goodwill behind the organisers' motives, it almost goes without saying that performers are not paid, but given the allure of the whole magical evening, the chance to perform in front of thousands of people at such an acoustically perfect venue is reward enough for most.
It is a home-grown event that has been carefully nurtured during the past couple of decades and, with generous help from some Taranaki businesses and funding organisations, including the TSB Community Trust, NZ Community Trust, Powerco, AWE and Classic Hits, the community is the real winner.
This year's show was no exception. As always, the talent was there for all to see, rounded off perfectly by Tchaikovsky's magnificently stirring 1812 overture, complete with booming cannon.
Even Santa took time out from his busy schedule at this time of the year to make a special guest appearance, to the delight of many smaller children.
For them, the magic of Christmas is clearly still very much alive.
To cap off a memorable night, many families take a leisurely stroll through Pukekura Park to enjoy the magic that is the Festival of Lights. It is the perfect way to complete an evening that could only happen in Taranaki, a place like no other.
- Taranaki Daily News
Testing drugs on animals is:Related story: Animal tests 'key' to brain disease cures