When Julie Lalou Simpson’s daughter started at a new school, staff immediately recognised her address. “The teacher was like: ‘Oh, I know that address. That’s the Christmas House.’”
Lalou Simpson, 42, runs two dog grooming salons has decorated the outside of her house on Park Road, Chiswick, for five years.
Initially, she started the tradition for her three children, who loved the decorations. “We built on it every year. Three years ago, people started asking whether it was for something. We were like: ‘Actually, that’s a great idea.’”
Since then, Lalou Simpson has used the display to help support research into treatments for Fragile X Syndrome, after her twin boys, both 11, were diagnosed with the genetic condition in 2015.
She has raised around £2,000 in previous years, but has gained £2,298 already this year, with all donations to go to FRAXA.
The display is documented on Lalou Simpson's Instagram, @Christmasonparkroad, and she has set up a JustGiving page for donations.
Lalou Simpson adds to her display every year. This year, there is a giant, lit-up Christmas tree gate, three illuminated baubles, two golden presents with red ribbon, candy canes in all the windows, and a huge spruce garland over the door, which is flanked by two life-size nutcrackers.
“My husband says it’s verging on tacky,” says Lalou Simpson. “We try and keep it quite classy. It’s not too crazy.”
Lalou Simpson’s preparations began seven months ago, when she began to source her decorations. Most, she says, are ordered from China — “You just can’t get the stuff here”— and she “tries not to count” the cost.
They go up in mid-November and remain until New Year. It takes three days to assemble the display, starting with the red bow, then adding the lights, props and garland.
“[The visitors] are non-stop, all day,” says Lalou. “Every time a car passes, they’ll stop. Quite often, they’ll reverse back and take photos. It’s constant. Every few minutes, there’s someone taking a photo. Some people knock on the door – there’s always people there when we leave the house.”
When visitors do knock, they tell her they love the display, or say thank you. What do her children think? “They love it. They like the attention – they like that everyone stops at their house. They get very excited about it.”
Jellicoe Road, Watford: 'It's very pressured'
Mark Andrews is on a deadline. He has come home from work, put his headtorch on and gone back outside to make some adjustments to the matrix for his annual Christmas lights show, which he holds at his home on Jellicoe Road, Watford.
It starts on Saturday, 2 December and he is putting in the finishing touches.
“It’s very pressured. I have to have this operating on Saturday,” says Andrews. “Because it is technical, a lot of things can go wrong.”
Andrews, 59, started erecting this year’s display in October. It took him two weeks, plus two weeks in the summer to make the props with his wife, Pamela.
Plus, of course, his spare evenings and weekends. But really, preparations began last Christmas, as soon as he decided he was satisfied with 2022’s show.
Andrews has been running Christmas lights shows set to music for the past 20 years, using them to raise money for charity since 2016.
Over time, Andrews' shows have become increasingly sophisticated. There are 69,000 solar-powered smart LED bulbs, which Andrews —an electronics and communications engineer— programmes individually (this takes most of a year).
He can control the colour, duration and brightness of each bulb, and will not only create patterns in time with the music but will also increase the brightness of each bulb as the volume goes up.
Last year, his highlight was a sequence set to a Hardwell remix of Armin van Buuren’s Christmas Ping Pong. The house began in darkness, punctuated by a white ping pong ball shape dropping the length of the building.
As the song gained pace, different sections of the house were lit in changing colours, revealing more of the display.
By the crescendo, the house was rapidly flitting between colours and themes: wiggling purple stars, a red Polar Express, illuminated candy canes; a golden cross-hatched Christmas tree.
“It kept people in suspense,” says Andrews. “It got faster and faster, and as the music went on, it brought more to it. I timed the sequence so that when the music got louder or faster, the lights would reflect that.”
This year, Andrews has added a full-size snowman to the display, as well as a two-foot bauble to the wall and a series of icicles hanging from his gutters. They have all been cut, soldered and wired up with LED lights by hand. “We’re at the stage now where our garden’s full. There isn’t much more I can add.”
Andrews, who has loved electronics since he was 14, first started the display for fun. “It was purely a hobby, and to give people enjoyment,” he says.
“[In the area], there’s the odd person who has a string of hob lights on a windowsill, but there’s nothing to actually say: Christmas has arrived.”
In 2016, Andrews began to harness the popularity of the show to raise money for Essex and Herts Air Ambulance. But, last year, as the local community began to feel the crunch of the cost of living crisis, he began to support Watford Foodbank, raising £800. “It seemed a perfect opportunity to help people,” he says.
Now, Andrews’ lights have come to represent the start of Christmas for his neighbours. “You wouldn’t believe the number of residents that come up to me and say: ‘When are you putting your lights on? Because we aren’t turning ours on indoors until yours are on.’”
Andrews is careful to keep the volume of his light shows low so as not to disturb his neighbours and says the display is well received.
“The response is always enthusiastic – the children are dancing around on our driveway. They haven’t seen anything like it before,” he says. “[The best thing about doing it] is seeing people happy. It brings life, laughter, and happiness.”
Lower Morden Lane: 'London’s most Christmassy street'
At Lower Morden Lane, Morden, is one of London’s biggest —and most famous— collection of Christmas houses, once dubbed “London’s most Christmassy street”.
The tradition of residents decorating their houses for Christmas has been running for more than 40 years and receives thousands of visitors a year – as well as attracting queues of traffic two miles long at either end of the road on Christmas Eve. Visitors can come from up to 50 miles away, says David Clarke, the display’s organiser.
“The atmosphere is brilliant. We’ll have a constant flow of traffic from about 4pm to 9pm on Christmas Eve, and thousands of people walking up and down and talking to each other, which doesn’t happen very often in London,” says Clarke.
“It’s a fantastic spirit that you won’t find anywhere else.”
Clarke, 76, has lived on the road for the past 32 years. The tradition was already well-established when he moved to the area – although details like when or how the event first started have now been “lost in the mists of time”.
For the past 25 years, however, the event has been used to fundraise for the local St Raphael’s Hospice, thanks to one resident, Sylvia Queenborough. It has raised £250,000 in that time, says Clarke, averaging around £10,000 a year.
Sadly, Queenborough passed away last year, in the care of the same hospice, and Clarke took on the mantle. “It was poignant,” he says.
“[St Raphael’s] is a cause that resonates at this time of year. It is surprising what respect the hospice has around here.”
Clarke rallies neighbours to collect funds on the street, but spectators can also donate online. St Raphael’s say that it costs them £6.5 million a year to provide free, specialist care to residents in Merton and Sutton, and that Queenborough’s initiative has provided vital support.
“We look forward to everyone coming together this year and we couldn’t be more thankful for the charitable spirit and support of our community,” says Bonita Hope, the hospice’s community fundraising manager.
Lower Morden Lane’s lights come to life in the weeks before Christmas, and Clarke estimates that around 50 per cent of the houses on the road take part (there are almost 200).
Clarke starts installing his own display on December 1, but the process takes two weeks, with a little added every day. This year, he has two Christmas trees, both four metres high, a reindeer, Santa sledge and a singing Santa with a button for people to press.
“I’ve got some wonderful new electronic lights this year, which I’m quite excited about,” says Clarke. “I’ll have to experiment with them.”
Most houses will put up lights on the side of the house and use their driveways for extras. Expect stars, ribbons, lit-up trees, reindeer, angels and many different incarnations of Santa. Few residents, though, spend as much time as Clarke on installing the display. “I’m notorious for that.”
Is there competition between the houses? “Oh yes,” he says. “It’s a bit like a garden show. We’ll beaver away quietly in the summer and put things together in the autumn, and then you like to think you’ve done a little bit better than the next guy. That’s what keeps it going.”
The tradition has been going on for so long that is has begun to pass between generations: at first, Clarke’s children would help him with the decorations and collections, and now, it’s his grandchildren. As well as fundraising, Clarke says that the Christmas lights have helped to foster a sense of community on the street.
“It’s the same up and down the road. That’s what happens when you have a tradition like this,” he says. “The community spirit, especially on Christmas Eve, is just fantastic. That’s part of the joy of it, and why we keep doing it.”
Other displays in London
House of Christmas
This display has been running for 25 years, in memory of Tommy Hoban. All donations go to Shooting Star Children’s Hospices.
Longford Avenue, Feltham, TW14 9TG
No.1 Pinewood Charity Lights
Light shows run at 7pm from 9-31 December. Donations go to St Christopher’s Hospice.
Pinewood Close, Croydon, CR0 5EX
Hillway, Holly Lodge Estate
Annual charity lights display which has fundraised for PMSF UK, Reverse Rett and Wood That Works in the past.
Hillway, Highgate, N6, 6QA
The Birkhall Lights
After a year’s pause, the Leach family’s charity Christmas lights are back on. Running from December 9 onwards.
Birkhall Road, Catford, SE6
This year, the famous south London display is raising money for Lewisham Foodbank.
Grierson Road, Honor Oak Park, SE2