The festive season is here and the hunt is on for Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year.
BBC Scotland’s hit property show is back for another one-off festive special. Regular judges Anna Campbell-Jones and Banjo Beale are joined by newcomer Danny Campbell on their seasonal search of festive homes.
Last year saw Highland Perthshire cottage Easter Shian named Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year.
This year five properties are vying for the coveted Christmas title. There is 1880s Apartment in Greenock, which features a 12 foot tree in the lounge. Bay Tree House is a mid-terrace in Edinburgh that’s filled with hand-crafted decorations.
Hops Cottage in Glasgow is Nordic inspired and filled with decorations that are sustainable and foraged. White Lion Townhouse in East Renfrewshire is an extravagant, glitzy and glamourous home that aims to be the ultimate Christmas party pad.
Perthshire property aiming for Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year
Then there is Beit Al Milad in Auchterarder. It’s owned by Flo and Paul Gebara. Flo is from Lebanon while Paul is English and of Lebanese descent.
Flo, who turns 53 today, runs a catering business from her home that specialises in vegan Lebanese food. Paul, 59, runs his own marketing and market research business. The couple have three children: Megan, 18, Matthew, 21, and Mikey, 22.
The couple have been going crazy for Christmas for every one of the 10 years they’ve lived in Auchterarder. Before that they spent 22 years in Dubai, where they didn’t let the sweltering desert location cramp their Christmas style.
“We did all this in Dubai,” Flo says. “We had a penthouse apartment and would fill it with Christmas trees. Then we would turn up the air conditioning so people felt the festive spirit.”
There is certainly no shortage of festive spirit in their Auchterarder home.
Once I get to their street it isn’t difficult to work out which house is theirs. Christmas trees, lights and decorations fill the front garden, leaving just enough room for a couple of parking spaces.
Stepping inside their detached home is like setting foot in Santa’s Grotto. Fairy lights twinkle everywhere. There is at least one tree in every room, and frequently more. And years of Christmas village models collected over more than 20 years are on display.
Among the many beautiful, handmade model buildings clustered around the many Christmas trees in the home are Kensington Palace, the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral and Big Ben.
Handmade by American company Department 56, they’re authentic down to the last detail. “St Paul’s Cathedral famously had one of its clocks stolen,” Flo says, pointing to a missing clock face on the model.
“You can’t buy them in the UK but Paul’s brothers and sisters live in America and we pick up a few Department 56 buildings every time we visit. They’re expensive but they’re beautiful.”
Flo presses a button and a model train begins a circuit around the tree and the Christmas village. Every detail has been taken care of – there’s even a lovely festive smell of Christmas trees and winter spices throughout the home.
Perthshire home has dozens of Christmas trees
The couple have an astonishing 34 Christmas trees. Every bedroom has at least one and the reception rooms are packed with them.
In the kitchen, where space is a little tight around the table, there are two ‘upside down’ trees, which appear to be hanging from the ceiling.
The downstairs toilet is Harry Potter themed. A large leather trunk dates from the 1890s and comes from the film set, where it was used in the Platform 9 ¾ scenes.
“Harry Potter is all about escaping from reality into a world of magic, and that’s what Christmas should be like,” Flo says.
Fairy lights flow up the staircase and every bedroom has its own special theme. Even the bathrooms have been decorated.
What do their children think of all the trees and tinsel? “They don’t have a choice!” Flo grins. “But seriously, they love it and get very excited about it. They all come home for Christmas and it’s a wonderful family time.”
Up until Covid, Flo and Paul held an open house on the first Sunday of December every year. “We had homemade mulled wine, hot chocolate and mince pies,” Flo says. “It’s usually so busy that people have to queue in the garden and we set up a marquee for them to wait inside.
“Once we had a couple come from as far as Glasgow. We always ask for donations to charity and raised almost £4,000 for CHAS. We stopped during Covid but plan to start doing a charity open house again from next year.”
Behind all the tinsel and lights in the home there is an important message. “We’re from Lebanon and all people hear on the news about the Middle East is death and destruction,” Flo says. “We want to put across a message of peace and goodwill and happiness. For us that is what Christmas is all about.”
This is part of the reason why Flo and Paul put themselves forward for Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year. “We really love the show and we love inviting people into our house to see the Christmas decorations,” Paul says. “We were delighted to be chosen to take part in the show.”
Planning the Christmas display
It is quite astonishing how much Christmas kit the couple have. Surely they cannot have space to store it?
Flo shows me her home’s garage, which has floor-to-ceiling shelving around all four walls and is packed to the gunnels. There is at least as much Christmas stuff stored in here as is on display in the house. And one wall is filled with Halloween gear.
Flo explains: “When we moved here we had a shipping container. Half of it was our belongings and the other half was all Christmas. Our neighbours thought we must be opening a Christmas shop.
“I change up the Christmas display every year so we only ever use part of our collection, which is expanding all the time.
“We do the same thing with the house and garden for Halloween as we do for Christmas.
“The Christmas decorations start going up at midnight on October 31. It takes six days to do it all.”
And when does Flo start planning next year’s display? “Right now,” she smiles. “I am already planning what we’re going to do next year.”
Scotland’s Christmas Home of the Year is on BBC One on Monday December 18 at from 8-9pm.