IN early November, Peter Mangelsdorf announced he would be erecting his Christmas Wonderland lights on the outskirts of Loxton for the very last time.
The Loxton Christmas Lights Festival Committee president said "it's time", with health reasons behind the decision.
The 68-year-old said the display concept came to him as a teenager, during electrical trade school in Adelaide.
"That's where I saw the West End Brewery lights for the first time," Peter said.
"As an electrician, I always thought I'd do something in Loxton like that one day, maybe down along the river.
"But in the end, I started with one reindeer and sleigh at my house and it just grew from there."
Today, the 250 metre-long display out the front of the Mangelsdorf house comprises more than 30 displays, illuminated by about 60 floodlights.
Peter has painted the majority of the artwork, with some helpers, including Jan Wagner - "who is better at painting people than I am".
"Plus I get given a lot of stuff from people who get ideas from elsewhere," he said.
There has also been many inheritances throughout the years, from ex-Mardi Gras floats to displays from the Lutheran Church.
"We have a candy cane from when (the branch of hardware story) Junckens closed 16 years ago, it was hanging in their rafters," he said.
Peter said he could sometimes spend up to $4000 a year on displays, especially if they were ordered from overseas.
"When I first started, I was using all my own money," he said.
"But then as it got bigger, the (Loxton Waikerie District) council would help out on bigger items if I needed, plus we get donations and support from all areas of the community."
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Peter said the Christmas Lights Committee formed in 1991 to start coordinating a number of displays popping up throughout Loxton.
"In the Loxton township, the Falland family also had a large Christmas lights display, which became the start of Santa's Walk," he said.
"It started on Hilbig Street and then expanded to the streets around it."
The Loxton Christmas Lights Festival Committee celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2021.
"Myself and (former secretary) Connie Kelly are the only remaining members from that original committee," Peter said.
Peter said one year they had 57 buses come to see the Loxton Christmas lights. The committee tries to provide a tour guide for each bus.
Across the years, Peter says the Christmas Wonderland has been an important part of Loxton Christmas Lights Festival, which has won three SA Tourism Awards and an SA Great Tourism Award.
Peter himself has been recognised with a Riverland Tourism Award; SA Great Community Individual Award; was 2018 Loxton Citizen of the Year and 1999 Riverland and Mallee Citizen of the Year.
This year, the Christmas Wonderland will be recognised with Loxton's Australia Day Award for Event of the Year.
The Loxton Christmas Lights Festival kicks off on the last weekend in November every year, which includes a spectacular fireworks display along the riverfront and is when the town's lights displays are turned on.
Peter says he likes to add something new to his display every year.
"Our Christmas Wonderland tells a story, starting from Bethlehem to the story of Father Christmas, and every cartoon character in between, including Peppa Pig and the very popular Minions," he said.
"But everyone's favourite is trying to find the Where's Wallys scattered throughout the display - that never gets old - while a lot also like the Lolly Shop area."
My kids loved it when they were young, and now it's wonderful to see their kids enjoy it too.
The recent pandemic even gets a mention, with some characters donning face masks.
Peter said the introduction of LED lights was a game-changer.
"The traditional lights would often overload," he said.
"With LED lights, they rarely trip the circuit breaker at all."
The Christmas Wonderland runs until 11pm New Years Eve, when the Mangelsdorf family will turn the lights off for a final time.
"My kids loved it when they were young, and now it's wonderful to see their kids enjoy it too," Peter said.
"But it's time."
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