The Brailsford Family – Lighting Up Christmas
For kids, Christmas is a magical time of the year filled with so many treats for the senses. There’s the sweets, chocolates, mince pies and cookies that tantalise the taste buds and fill the bellies. There’s the smell of the Christmas tree or the warmth of the log fire as the night’s draw in. And there is always the one house in the neighbourhood that goes above and beyond when decorating their house with lights and other feasts for the eyes.
But one family in Bristol take things a little bit further than your average household. For the last 23 years, the Brailsford’s, of Brentry in north Bristol, have been turning their home into the most festive house in the West Country each Christmas and this year is no different.
We spoke to Lee Brailsford about how it all started, how they get the motivation to do it every year and (gulp) how much their electricity bill comes to each December.
Let’s start at the beginning? Why did you start doing your Christmas lights?
One Boxing Day back in 1994 when I was 18 years old, I went in to B&Q just to see the sales. There wasn’t much there (it was after Christmas, after all), but on the way out I saw a 2ft tall Christmas tree-shaped light. Seeing that it was half price I nabbed it straight away, got straight home and put it up on the front of the house. And that, as they say, was that. By the time next Christmas came around I had added a Santa Claus and a plastic snowman model and it went from there. Each year we started adding more and more – we even started importing them from the USA as well!
What did your neighbours say when you first started? Have they been supportive, or have you had to win a few of them round?
Our neighbours love what we have been doing over the years; they even join in with the big switch-on event we do each year. We have all the roads closed to turn the light on with a big show – there are local celebs, local kids singing and dancing on stage and this year we had a live band playing their tunes. We even have a mini German market with hot chocolates and food on hand. It’s quite the event.
Where do you get the inspiration for your designs?
We’ve always loved Christmas, so I guess it comes from childhood. When we were kids our Dad used to take us around to see other people’s lights but they were nowhere near on the scale of what we’re doing these days (laughs).
How long does it take to set up a display? Do any of the lights stay up all year long?
Each year we start setting up on the second weekend of October. We try and give ourselves about seven weekends in case we have any bad weather, but we tend to only need five or so weekends. It’s about ten full days of work.
What’s the motivation behind setting up each year’s display?
Aside from the fact that we love the festive holidays. for the last 10 years we have been raising money for our local children’s hospital in Bristol and that makes us very happy that our hobby is helping so many others. So far, we’ve raised £41,000 so this year we’re hoping to get it up to £50,000.
Is it true that this year’s switch on event will be your last for a while? If so, how come?
That’s true, yes. We’ve decided to have a few years off as it has become such a big event and people are coming from far and wide to see it and, as a result, it’s getting very hard to organise. Last year, over 2,000 people came to the big ‘switch on’.
How do you go about sourcing and storing lights for the displays?
Each year we keep an eye out on the sales to grab half price lights and keep them for the following year. In recent years I have started looking on places like eBay, throughout the year, in case there is something we don’t have. We end up spending about £800 on new stuff each year – it’s not cheap!
Where do you do all the work for the lights? Is a lot of it bought off the shelf, or do you build your own displays?
Most lights come as a standard light – for example, for our life size nativity we had to build a stage and stable to really get it looking as good as we wanted. It’s not too much of a problem for us as me and my bro own our building company and we have a big double garage to build and make everything we need to make it look the best we can.
What’s the most important item you own? How is it vital to your work?
The best thing we own is our life size nativity. We got it from the USA and it cost us well over £1,200. To us, it is the true meaning of Christmas and that’s why it has to be the centrepiece of our display.
Is there one piece of equipment that would make your life easier?
Each year we make a list of things we need to make things easier and then we buy it the following year. We had a snow machine this year – now that’s something everyone loves.
How much does this all cost in electricity?
This is the question we always get asked the most. It’s up to about £700 now. We are trying to convert as many lights to LED as we can so as stuff breaks and needs replacing that helps to keep the price down. Having said that the lights are running for about six weeks and on for about five hours a day so, if you break it down, it’s not that much per hour really. We think it’s worth it anyway.
More about the Brailsford family
Read more about the Brailsford’s Christmas lights on their website.
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