Christmas lights: Festive craze delights children, leads to oneupmanship … and a few hefty bills

Chloe Anderson at her grandfather's house in Clermiston
Chloe Anderson at her grandfather's house in Clermiston
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THEY are known as ho ho houses. The temporary tourist attractions make ordinary streets a little
extraordinary at this time of year across Edinburgh and the Lothians.

From South Queensferry to Loanhead, it is a craze which has snowballed into ever more extravagant and competitive displays. But what makes someone go to the effort – and expense – of blinging their home?

Tracy Henderson's home in Southhouse Broadway

Tracy Henderson's home in Southhouse Broadway

Electrician Gordon Anderson, 56, started decorating the outside of his house more than 20 years ago for his children. Four children and nine grandchildren later, his annual Yuletide display at his Corstorphine home has become a labour of love which takes him a week to set up and costs an extra £300 in electricity bills.

“We started with just a Santa and a snowman and built it up,” he says.

From late November to early January, his front lawn is home to silhouette Christmas trees, snowmen and reindeer as well as an inflatable robin, a Santa in his chimney and a stocking, while the house itself is covered in lights and more festive shapes.

The piece de resistance however, is his life size nativity scene complete with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the three wise men, a camel, donkey, cow and a couple of sheep for which he paid more than £600.

This year has been a relatively cheap year in terms of Christmas decorations – he has forked out just £70 for some new lights and silhouette figures.

“We shop around and see what there is,” he says. “There’s not as much choice as there used to be. People haven’t got the money to spend nowadays.”

Mike and Lynn Fulton also started decorating their house more than 20 years ago for their daughter Michelle and have continued the tradition even though she is now living and working in Vietnam.

“She’s to blame,” jokes Mike, 54, who works for City Cabs. “We send pictures to her.”

This year they have more than 1200 lights around the windows of their house in Crewe Toll, an archway leading to their door with “Merry Christmas” on it and an eight-foot Christmas tree.

Most of their decorations use the more energy efficient LED (light emitting diodes) lights and so Mike doesn’t notice a big difference in the cost of his electricity at Christmas time.

“They are much more effective and better for the planet as well,” he says.

Tracy and Douglas Henderson, who live in Southhouse Broadway, meanwhile, are relative newcomers to the “houseblinging” scene.

They started about five years ago after getting the idea from a former neighbour.

“There used to be an old man who did it,” says Tracy, 32. “He passed away a few years ago and his sons haven’t kept it up. We used to take our kids down to look at their lights. We got the idea from them.”

They add new decorations every year with their collection including a sleigh and reindeer on the roof of the house, reindeer grazing by the front door as well as bells, robins, Santas, snowmen and Christmas trees on the wall.

Tracy, a shop assistant, says: “We just build them up over the years. We started with a couple of decorations and every year in the sales we go and buy new ones so we can add to it.”

Their latest decorations include some that were bought from the Gumtree website for “next to nothing” and others that were donated by friends.

She says it takes her husband Douglas, 34, two days to put the display up, with the first day taken up with bringing down the decorations from the loft and testing them and the second day getting all the wiring done.

While the couple’s four children Scott, 16, Daryl, 14, Nicolle, 12, and Lucy, five, love the lights, Tracy says: “We don’t just do it for our kids but for other kids in the neighbourhood. People will come past and stop to let their kids see the lights.

“It’s like a Christmas tradition.”

Another relative newcomer to the scene is Anne Bennet, who also started decorating her house five years ago, after her first granddaughter came along.

“We started it when we had the grandchildren,” says the 56-year-old, who now has three granddaughters. “They love the lights.”

This year’s display includes reindeer with nodding heads, a big angel, star and a Santa. Her most expensive purchase to date is a Santa train, which cost £80.

Although all her decorations have LED lights, her decorations add an extra £5 a week to her electricity bill.

Unlike a photograph doing the rounds on Twitter, showing an overdecorated house next to one with a simple arrow pointing at its neighbour and a four-letter word, all of the Edinburgh houseblingers say everyone loves their decorations.

“When it comes to the end of November, people start asking ‘When are you doing your lights?’” says Gordon.

“When it gets closer to Christmas, people come in their cars and stop to look.

“People ask if we do it for charity. It’s for the pleasure of the kids.”


Research by the comparison website found that more than half of UK homes will display outdoor decorations this Christmas, adding the equivalent of three weeks’ electricity consumption to their winter bill.

According to its research, an outdoor display comprising 100 x 5 watt bulbs will consume 0.5 Kwh. If the display is switched on for six hours a day from the start of November to the first week of January, it could consume an extra 207 Kwh of electricity – the equivalent of 22.8 days of the average household electricity consumption.

Christmas lights can be energy intensive but switching from traditional standard fairy lights to LED lights will cost you nearly six times less to run, according to the Energy Saving Trust.

The trust says that if all 26 million UK homes swapped one string of standard fairy lights for LED lights during the 12 days of Christmas alone, it would save enough carbon dioxide to fill 188,000 double-decker buses or £9.7m – enough to pay the weekly energy bills for 400,000 homes.

It estimates an extravagant Christmas light display can cost as much as £100 to power throughout December, producing enough CO2 to fill more than two double decker buses.

n According to online festive store Xmasdirect, the cost of running a 10-metre section of lights for 12 hours a day over a six week period – based on average UK electricity costs of 13 pence per unit – is 66p for outdoor LED lights compared to £3.93 for outdoor garden lights.

The store says while LED lights tend to be more expensive to buy, they are more durable – lasting up to 100,000 hours.

n A 50 x 28cm Merry Christmas white rope light sign with 144 bulbs costs £21.50 on

n An equivalent 76 x 47 cm LED Merry Christmas sign costs £39.99.

n A 100m of clear rope light with 36 lamps per metre costs £254.82.

n An multi-coloured set of LED lights on a wire costs £248.97 for five sets of five-metre strings.

n A set of indoor fairy lights with 100 bulbs costs £8.20 while a set of 100 LED fairy lights costs £16.99.