Nulkaba's Cely and Ray Relf begin preparations for stunning Christmas lights display

THE LONG JOURNEY BEGINS: Nulkaba's Cely Relf at the start of her month-long operation to get her magnificent Christmas light display ready for the public. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers
THE LONG JOURNEY BEGINS: Nulkaba's Cely Relf at the start of her month-long operation to get her magnificent Christmas light display ready for the public. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

Cely Relf says the ideas start ticking over in October.

She will drag out pictures she has taken from previous years - see what worked, how she can make it look different and better this year. Nothing on paper, it's all in her head.

By the start of November the boxes are coming out of the garage. Box after box. This is where her husband Ray comes into it. He's the muscle, she's the creative force.

Then, by the start of December, she's ready.

Deep breath ... flick the switch ... and one of the Hunter's best known Christmas lights display is there is all its glory for another year.

Usually. Occasionally there's a bit of cursing under the breath when the lights don't dazzle, which means another check of switches and connections, but she'll get there in the end. By December 1, the house at the end of the street at 1 Tallowood Drive, Nulkaba is shining brighter than an Elton John outfit.

Just as it has for the past 19 years.

Half the double garage is taken up with boxes – "absolutely chock-a-block, can't squeeze another one in", says Ray. Any more and the car would be on the street.

That means that the garden shed and the fernery have both been reassigned for the remaining Christmas decorations. It's a neat fit, but she's confident with some clever packing there's still a bit of room for expansion.

So how much time and money does this desire to bring a smile to children's faces entail?

"Both Ray and I drive taxis so I have to fit the lights in around that and the housework and shopping," Filipino-born Cely explained.

"I would think it takes maybe 16 to 20 hours a week for four weeks to get it finished. And the cost? I don't want to think about it ... "       

 She breaks into a giggle.

"I would think we spend $2000 to $3000 a year on lights and decorations."

Ray has no doubt about it. "And that's just the lights. Power bills are separate," he says.

After embracing solar some years back the December quarterly power bill is usually up about $800 – a figure Ray is happy to cop for the joy it brings his wife.

DAZZLING: Cely Relf outside her Nulkaba home in December 2015. Picture: Sage Swinton

DAZZLING: Cely Relf outside her Nulkaba home in December 2015. Picture: Sage Swinton

Not that Cely spends recklessly. She's good with her hands and will save cost by making decorations to add to her display. Santas, reindeers, that sort of thing.

While Ray doesn't participate too much, Cely says he invariably starts prompting her in October.

When work begins their son Russell will often help with the wiring on the roof, and occasionally will dress up as Santa and hand out treats to the kids.

I ask Ray if he joins in.

"Nah mate, but I stand out there with a stubby in hand and give him all the encouragement in the world," he says with a laugh.

Such is the notoriety of  Cely's razzle-dazzle that she regularly gets busloads of visitors.

"I would guess we get about 2000 people a year. Mostly in cars, but we do get a lot of buses too."

Ray says they even get Sydney people up specifically to take a peek.

They don't mind if visitors wander through the yard – they might even bump into Russell dressed as Santa if they're lucky.

So, what's the driving force? Why go through this every year? The time, the effort, the money.

"Because when you see the smiles on the faces of the children, it's priceless," Cely explains.

In Ray's mind, it's easy.

"Because that's Cely to a tee. She's the most wonderful, warm hearted person in the world."