If you live near Christchurch or Timaru, Christmas hasn't begun until you've visited Ballantynes department stores' iconic Christmas window displays.
"The tradition is so special to Ballantynes, and we are always excited to share this with our community," Ballantynes visual design and merchandise supervisor Pearl Schwalger-Smith says.
Planning for the window displays and grotto begins as early as February.
"This starts off with lots of brainstorming, movie watching, research, and messy drawings until we have three solid concepts, which include a storyline, what our sets could look like, mood boards, and in-store theming ideas."
The concepts are then presented to the executive team, who choose the theme for the year.
Past concepts have included letters to Santa getting lost at the North Pole and needing to make their way back to Santa, a heartfelt story about a little snowman who wants to spend Christmas inside with his family, and, more recently, animals celebrating Christmas all around the world.
"For most of the year, Christmas is ticking along in the background, and then as we draw closer to the season, the full visual design team are all hands on deck to bring it all together, creating magical displays."
Installation of the displays and the grotto takes around five weeks for both stores.
Although the Christmas shop opens in September, the window displays are kept a closely guarded secret until their unveiling on November 25.
Schwalgar-Smith said keeping the windows a secret is all part of the fun.
"We love it.
"The secret helps to keep the launch magical for everybody."
Santa will be in the Christchurch store from November 25 to help launch the windows and will be taking time out of his busy schedule to see children in the grotto.
Parents can book a time for their children to meet Santa and have a photo taken with the man himself by booking through the Ballantynes website.
Santa will also be making appearances throughout December at the Timaru store.
Styling your house for Christmas
Ballantynes home & gift buyer Rachel Martin says having fun with your Christmas decorations is important and that holidays should be a time for relaxation and joy.
"Your home should reflect your personality," Martin said.
Martin suggests picking a theme that can be built upon every year and not to feel pressured by Christmas imagery that pops up on social media and in magazines.
"Some people love their homes to be colour-co-ordinated, others are more eclectic.
"You should choose decorations that reflect your personality rather than trying to follow somebody else's themes to the letter."
Vintage has been a popular theme recently, which Martin says is a perfect way of including your older, treasured decorations.
"By adding some newer vintage-inspired decorations in with your older ones, you can give them a whole new look, and you'll still have your memories on show."
"Sweet treats", which combine pastel colours with decorations in the form of cupcakes, macarons, and sprinkles, have been a popular trend in Europe.
Enchanted forest themes with woodland creatures have also been popular.
"Of course, traditional themes of red, green and gold with snow and Santa will never go out of style."
Pick a theme that reflects summery colours rather than dark, cosy tones to embrace a more New Zealand-style Christmas.
Locally made decorations that don't feature winter imagery and integrating native greenery into wreaths and arrangements can bring the outside in and provide a more kiwi flavour.
Styling your table
Martin says the best place to start is with a table runner, creating a central anchor for all your decorations.
"A look that's very on trend right now is bringing the outdoors in. by creating a living runner down the centre of the Christmas table."
Add seasonal florals, fruit and woody elements such as pinecones, acorns and cinnamon sticks for a more festive feel.
"Tall candles in the centre will also add a touch of elegance.
"You could extend this further by tying napkins with ribbon or string and a sprig of berries or orange slices."
For a personal touch, place cards are an effortless and inexpensive way to make guests feel special.
Gift wrap can be expensive, but there are some unique and environmentally friendly solutions that are good alternatives to traditional wrapping.
Martin suggests using patterned tea towels as a useful alternative to paper.
"This works particularly well with a foodie gift like a bottle of wine, olive oil or sauce."
Fabric scraps can also work well if you are a sewer, or keep it simple with solid coloured paper prettied up with twine, sprigs of eucalyptus or berries.
by Claire Inkson