It's not hard to believe Jo Haynes loves Christmas – so much so, in fact, that for many years she would put all her household furniture into storage come September and turn her home into a festive wonderland!
These days the home no longer needs to be packed up. Instead, a giant purpose-built shed on her rural Manawatū property means she can indulge in her irrepressible yuletide passion.
Celebrating Christmas has been dear to her heart right from when she was a little girl, when her extended family would gather under one roof.
"I loved it," she says.
"We always used to have Christmas at Foxton Beach because my aunty had a beach house out there. My mum would put a stocking at the end of my bed and I must have been the worst child for going to sleep on Christmas Eve. I was continually waking up and then we'd be awake at four in the morning.
"I'll never forget those beach-time memories. As I got older and got my own home, I wanted to bring them back."
The decorations started off low-key at her Palmerston North home but became grander by the year.
"It got to the stage where I decorated one of our homes big-time. I went completely crazy and put all my furniture into storage so I had a blank canvas to work with and decorated the whole house!"
It included themed rooms, complete with sand on the floor of the dining room for a beach setting, bark in the "enchanted forest" in the lounge, and colour-coordinated trees to match each bedroom's decor.
Jo (61) reckons she had at least a dozen decorated full-size Christmas trees and many other smaller versions, bringing a festive touch to every room.
"I thought, 'This is a bit over the top for just my family. I should be sharing this with other people.' So we decided one night to open the door and see what happened. And that's basically how it all started."
On the very first night, so many people turned up that she struggled to move in her own home.
As well as the forest in the lounge and the beach in the dining room, the whole kitchen was done up as a gingerbread area.
"We had a brick pathway through the whole area from start to finish so that people had a path to follow.
"Everything was open but we still lived there, and we had our bedrooms to ourselves. People used to ask, 'How do you cook? How do you eat?' It was actually a nice place to be in."
She admits that with her full-time job in banking, the latter third of each year became very demanding.
"In the end I took a wee rest from it after we shifted from that house because it was getting really difficult. It consumed our life from September through to the end of December."
But when Jo and her husband Warren shifted into a lifestyle block at rural Bunnythorpe, near Palmerston North, she once more had the chance to continue her obsession, this time on a scale so grand she was able to showcase 18 different themed bays under one roof – with no need to pack it away afterwards!
"I said to my hubby, 'How about we just build a purpose-built shed, and then I can continue to do what I'm doing but it'll make it easier because everything can stay there all year round and I can work on changing it?' So that's what we did the first year we were here."
She says the shed means she can change the bays around and introduce new ones when inspiration strikes. Not surprisingly, shopping for decorations is hard to resist.
"That's probably my downfall. This little hobby is costing an absolute fortune! I'm dreadful when it comes to things like that, and everything changes every year.
"They're always bringing out new colours, and I've only got to see one thing and I think, 'Right, I can do something with that, and create another theme,' and then you're basically starting from scratch having to get everything!
"In January I decided I needed to revamp quite a lot of stuff because I had lots more ideas so I went from bay to bay pulling everything out. I've restyled everything, adding and changing things around so it does look very different from last year."
The adjoining courtyard is outfitted in festive lights and there's even a full-size sleigh crafted by her talented spouse for kids to enjoy.
This year, she's opening her ornately decorated property to the public from December 9 through to Christmas Eve to share the magical experience.
In keeping with the spirit of the season, she is donating some of the proceeds from the small entrance charge to the community.
"Last year I bought gifts for the children's hospital here and we delivered them a couple of days before Christmas. This year we're giving Christmas treats to a deserving family in the community."
But for this lover of Christmas, her displays are simply a way to share the seasonal magic and wonder that forged so many special childhood memories.
"It's so nice to have people coming through and being able to enjoy something and forget about what is maybe going on behind the scenes.
"I love giving to people. I love seeing smiles on people's faces, and family all getting together at Christmas time, it's just a real passion."
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