THE real countdown to Christmas has begun.

Never mind the ads that have been on television since August - or so it seems. Never mind the shops packed with Christmas offerings and Black Friday sales that go on for days. 

These are all indications that there will be a Christmas at some time in the future, but it is when every town, village and even hamlet, switches on their festive lights or Christmas trees that we know the coutndown is officially on.

As someone who has lived in the Southern hemisphere for more than half her life, Christmas seems so magical here.

Not that we missed out. Even as a family in Zambia, we had our Christmas tree and lights and we had our traditional turkey dinner on Christmas day - and enjoyed it despite the extreme heat!

We also sent Christmas cards to family in Britain with lovely pictures of robins in the snow. We children had never seen either!

In New Zealand, around 20 years ago, a family decorated their house - and there were compaints from neighbours about the number of people driving up and down their street at 11pm to get a good look at the lights in the dark.

Here it is so different. I am not a fan on the long, winter day sbut in the lead-up to Christmas it is magical indeed. People are rushing around doing their shopping, listening to Christmas music and all with a backdrop of beautiful lights.

Not only that, but every town, village and even hamlet, seems to join in whether switching on the lights or just a Christmas tree.

And the award for the best lights goes to... Aspatria!

The town council couldn't afford to light the lenth of main thoroughfare so the community joins in. Residents are asked to decorate their houses or windows.

In return they receive a free raffle ticket with cash prizes and even a new mattress from Sealy Beds.

The lights are going on and so it is time to wish you all a very merry Christmas countdown!