Northern Ireland

Shining a light on the Christmas decoration superfans

Tim's Lights Image copyright Tim Hancock
Image caption Tim Hancock's Christmas display at his family home in Tandragee

There's always that one house.

The one that will bring joy to some neighbours and despair to others.

They're the people who don't believe in minimal and didn't wait until the first Sunday of Advent to deck the halls with boughs of holly.

Mary Laughlin is a fully-fledged member of that club - her Christmas decorations went up on 3 October.

The 54-year-old from west Belfast does not do Halloween - it just gets in the way of the main event.

Like all these things, it started small with a tree and a Santa when her three children were young, but it then snowballed.

Image copyright Chantelle Crooks
Image caption Mary Laughlin says she just loves Christmas

There's a blow-up polar bear, Santa and Nutcracker drummer in the front garden - not to mention 3,000 lights.

Inside, no room is left untouched.

"I just keep adding every year," she said.

"When the sales come on after Christmas, I just go and buy but I am topping up even now.

"I saw some decorations online the other night but my grandchildren said I had no room for them."

She said people often stop at the gate and linger.

"I love seeing the kids' faces," she said.

Image copyright Clare Byrne
Image caption Someone loves Christmas this much

Stephen Wilson admits he is the biggest kid in his house.

The 42-year-old salesman "would go earlier" than the end of November but his friends would "slag" him off too much.

Mr Wilson has 4,000 lights outside his home in Letterbreen, near Enniskillen in County Fermanagh.

"We are way out in the country and our house is up on a hill, and it does look like Hansel and Gretel's house," he said.

The 14 sets are controlled from three different parts of the house and some of the lights stay up all year round.

Image copyright Stephen Wilson
Image caption Stephen Wilson has no idea how much it costs to run his lights

While he might not have to spend hours detangling every year, it must be extremely tense when it comes to that universally-dreaded moment of truth - will the lights actually work?

Only one set failed this year but that was no bother for Mr Wilson - rather conveniently, he's a former electrician.

"My dad was an electrical contractor and I worked in the shop, surrounded by lights, since I was 11," he said.

What about the electricity bill?

"My wife pays it so I don't have to think about it but she has not complained," he said.

"They're LED so it cannot be that bad. Though everybody always says the power dips in Enniskillen when I turn my lights on."

Image copyright Clare Byrne
Image caption Every room gets the Christmas treatment in Deirdre Byrne-Lennon's home

Clare Byrne believes her mum Deirdre Byrne-Lennon is the biggest Christmas fan in Northern Ireland.

But the 59-year-old is not concerned with the outside - it's all about the indoor trees (four and counting) and homemade decorations.

"She has always made it big and she's getting even earlier," she said.

"She reared us on her own and so I think Christmas was her time to spoil us. We wanted for nothing, though it doesn't compare to what they get nowadays.

"My sister Catherine has Down's syndrome and still lives with mum, and I think that is a big part of it."

Image copyright Tim Hancock
Image caption Tim Hancock builds his own trees

Another sister, Orlaigh, also lives at the family home in Newry.

She has well and truly taken on the Christmas baton, putting a tree up in her room in September.

Indeed the 34-year-old loves Christmas so much, she had Santa and his reindeer tattooed on her leg this year.

Image copyright Tim Hancock
Image caption Tim shares his knowledge of all things festive on a forum

Tim Hancock lives and breathes Christmas.

When the 21-year-old is not studying business at the University of Ulster, he is thinking about blow moulds and pixel mega trees.

Blow moulds are basically plastic figures with lights in them and most Christmas fans would have one or two of them.

Tim owns 300.

They are not all on display at his family home's in Tandragee, as he changes the set-up every year.

364-day hobby

His father started the collection in 1999 but the "turning point" for Tim came in 2011 when he watched a documentary on Christmas displays and got in touch with the people who featured in it.

He started a Facebook group for display owners in the UK and opened Tim's Lights to the community - there's no entry fee but people are asked to give a donation to charity.

About 60 people came to the switch-on in November.

Image copyright Jordan Christie
Image caption Jordan Christie's display in Ballybogey in County Antrim is an eyecatcher

"I never imagined we would be at the scale we have reached now," he said.

"For me it's more about the Nativity (the birth of Jesus Christ) - the real reason of Christmas - and the charity."

He was programming the pixel trees from mid-April and starting putting the display together in September.

"If it's not at the forefront of my mind, it's always in the back of it," he said.

However, like Santa, Tim puts his feet up and switches off for the big day itself - before starting on his designs for Christmas 2020.