One man's crusade to bring back the magic of Christmas

2016-12-24 08:41
"Mr Lights", Gerry Smeda. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

"Mr Lights", Gerry Smeda. (Tammy Petersen, News24)

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Cape Town - Hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights have been drawing families to the Smeda home for more than a decade.

The home, which shines like a beacon in the heart of Kuils River, is where a history teacher and his household are trying to rekindle the magic of Christmas.

Gerry Smeda's efforts - which started with strings of lights strung across the roof of his house and have grown to a colourful wonderland complete with a rooftop helicopter made of tiny globes – have seen him spread the festive cheer and raise more than R100 000 for needy organisations.

More than 30km away from the Adderley Street festive light spectacle, the history teacher – known in the community as "Mr Lights" – has created his own Christmas landmark at his northern suburbs home.

"When I started this in 2005, I just wanted to add to the holiday spirit. As a child, Christmas and the holidays were an enormous deal in my childhood home. I passed my love of the festive season on to my children – there's something magical about this time of year," Smeda said.

The colourful display was a hit in the neighbourhood, and the next year he decided to go bigger - and do better.

"We decided to try and raise funds for the Red Cross Children's Hospital to add some meaning to the fun. We placed collection cans at the house and managed to raise about R16 000 that year," he recalls.

Over the next two years they raised an additional R34 000 in aid of Red Cross.

"Mr Lights", Gerry Smeda. (Tammy Petersen)

Bringing light to people's lives

In 2009, he decided to fundraise for a hospital closer to home, collecting more than R80 000 for Tygerberg Hospital's children's ward over four years.

"It's about literally bringing light to people's lives and giving them the option to spread that spirit," he said.

Load shedding in 2013 and 2014 forced the Smedas to halt their tradition, despite Gerry's attempts to keep it going with the help of a generator.

Following the death of his mother-in-law last year, the family decided to once again turn their house into a Christmas-themed beacon, this time to raise funds for the Douglas Murray Old Age Home in Retreat.

About R14 000 was collected and the family hosted a party for the elderly.

This year the Smedas are again raising funds for Tygerberg Hospital.

Setting up the display is much more complex than stringing lights onto trees and flipping a light switch, he explained.

Vintage-themed display

He designs the fixtures himself, and once made, he arranges and anchors the attractions. This can take up to two weeks to complete.

"It's a lot of work creating a mini Disneyland on your property," he joked.

This year he has added a vintage-themed display in his home, complete with antique cars, silent movies played from film projectors and golden oldies played from a gramophone. 

Hungry visitors can also buy boerewors rolls made on the stoep of his home. 

While the initiative generally results in an electricity bill of more than R3 000, Gerry says this is a small price to pay.

"I am on a mission to bring the Christmas spirit and magic back. I love to see the smiles and happiness that I remember experiencing as a child. Everyone should be able to feel that way this time of the year.

"One day, if you drive past my home in the festive season and there is darkness, know that I have passed on. I want to do this as long as I possibly can."

Visit the Smeda home at 15 Muller Street before January 3 to see the festive display.

Read more on:    cape town  |  christmas  |  good news

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