Lighting up Christmas celebrations

Last updated 08:39 20/11/2012
rsa christmas tree
JOHN BISSET/ Fairfax NZ
ALL LIT UP: Marking the festive season the lights are a beacon on what is thought to be Timaru's tallest tree.
timaru christmas decorations
RON LINDSAY/ Fairfax NZ
TRADITION: The Timaru Christmas lights are more than 30 years old and unique to the town.
soundshell concert
SUPPLIED/ South Canterbury Museum
FROM THE 60s: The Soundshell (circa 1965)
maree williams
CHRISTMAS WINNER: Maree Williams's Cook St home won the 2004 Christmas Lights Spectacular competition.

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Christmas is five weeks away and with it comes the pomp and ceremony. Past Times takes a look at some of the more colourful features of Timaru at this time of year.

Timaru Herald
December 17, 2003

Timaru's tallest tree has got a little bit taller in time for Christmas.

An enthusiastic crowd of guests and members of the community gathered at the RSA last night, to watch the unveiling of Timaru's newest decorated Christmas tree.

The 34-metre icon, which stands on the Wai-iti Rd property of Maurice and Sally Smith, has been illuminated by the Timaru District Council with four spotlights.

A seven-metre high "sputnik type" light decoration has also been fitted on the grand old Wellingtonian tree's highest tip.

Timaru ward committee chairman Terry Kennedy said the idea of decorating the Timaru landmark had originated from Geraldine councillor Lee Burdon a few years ago.

"As she came in and out of Timaru all the time she felt that it was an icon and it would be neat for it to be seen as a Christmas tree."

Mayor Wynne Raymond said it had taken a few years for the idea to come to fruition, but he was absolutely delighted with the result.

He said the landmark, which he believed was Timaru's tallest tree, was also known as the champagne tree.

"It was originally planted in the 1880s by a Mrs George Rhodes in Beswick Street where the council chambers now stand." After Mrs Rhodes' husband died she remarried an Arthur Perry, moved to Beverley Road and took the tree across town with her in a wheelbarrow to replant it.

"She had a bet for a case of champagne after a friend told her the tree would not last a year after it was replanted, " Mr Raymond said.

"Here it still stands and it is now known as the champagne tree." Mr Smith, whose property the tree now stands on, said the champagne tree was also used as a navigation point for ships during WWII.

"It's absolutely great to see it decorated." Timaru District Council projects co-ordinator Mark Elworthy said the tree's top decorative light, which should withstand 150 km winds, took a couple of hours to be put in place by a crane on Friday.

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Mr Elworthy said the decorations would be on display until the end of January.

Timaru Herald
December 14, 1999

The Christmas lights spectacular has proved to be an immediate success, with some of the 11 entrants around the city having decorated their homes with thousands of the tiny bulbs.

Organised for the first time this year, the competition winners will be announced at a function tomorrow evening.

Pat Bartholomew, spokesperson for the sponsors, said the competition has been run in 13 other centres throughout the country and it was decided to start it in Timaru, as a way to create a fun thing for the city.

One thousand dollars in sponsorship had been obtained from local businesses for prizes.

The decorated houses can be seen at: 62 Murchison Drive, 2 Harborough Street, 6 Cameron Street, 8 Selwyn Street, 14 Climie Terrace, 5 Archer Street, 10 Archer Street, 21 Market Place, 6 Glen Street, 43 Kauri Street, and the Enchanted Realm, 90 Stafford Street.

Caroline Bay Carnival

One of the highlights of Timaru's Caroline Bay Carnival is the New Year's Eve celebrations. For much of the mid-20th century, this event was marked with a huge bonfire on the beach. Often elaborate wooden constructions were built over a day or two before December 31, and bedecked with tyres and other combustible materials. Closer to the magic hour, petrol was liberally applied to the structure, ensuring a quick start to the bonfire.

These events attracted large numbers of people keen to see in the new year.

Until the late 1970s, alcohol was allowed to be taken to the Bay, resulting in large numbers of bottles littering the sand on January 1.

This provided a source of income for children who collected them to obtain the small refund then available for each bottle. Today the tradition continues, but with fireworks replacing the potentially hazardous bonfire.

Christmas lights

It takes about two weekends for Netcon to put up the Timaru lights.

The lights are more than 30 years old and are unique to the town.

The council owns the glass fibre moulds the angels are made from and several new ones were made about 10 years ago, to replace the large plastic balls that had been used as the centrepiece of several of the decorative strings.

- The Timaru Herald

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