Study shines light on Christmas tradition

Wednesday, 15 December 2004

New research confirms the Lights of Lobethal festival - one of South Australia's traditional Christmas lights displays - has put a small country town on the national and international map.

Researchers from the University of Adelaide and University of South Australia have been studying the Lights of Lobethal to gauge its cultural and tourism impact, as well as community and visitor attitudes.

"The Lights of Lobethal has grown from a traditional community practice to become an integral part of the village's identity," says Dr Matthew Rofe, Lecturer in Geographical & Environmental Studies, University of Adelaide.

"Many other areas have Christmas lights displays, but none of these occur to the same scale, nor do they have the historical significance of Lobethal's festival. This places Lobethal 'on the map' as arguably Australia's finest Christmas lights display."

Dr Rofe and Professor Hilary Winchester, Pro Vice Chancellor at the University of South Australia, conducted their research in the town during last year's Christmas season. In 2003, the festival attracted around 250,000 visitors.

This year's Lights of Lobethal festival was formally opened on December 12.


The festival traces its origins back to the Germanic Lutheran tradition of placing candles in the front windows of the home to celebrate the festive season.

According to the research, this tradition was re-kindled in Lobethal during the 1940s by a direct descendant of Lutheran settlers who founded the village in 1842.

The research also found that while many people found the festival to be synonymous with Christmas, the success of the festival has caused some tension among both residents and visitors alike.

"Some people said they thought the festival was becoming too big, over-commercialised, and that this was eroding the true community nature of the tradition. These concerns were often related to issues such traffic congestion and street crime, such as vehicle break-ins," Professor Winchester says.

Despite these concerns, the researchers believed the sense of community within Lobethal was still very strong.

"Many of the Lobethal people we interviewed recounted the long history of their family's involvement in the festival with enormous pride," Dr Rofe says.

"I feel sure even if visitor numbers declined, which is unlikely, the tradition of the Lights of Lobethal would continue."

Visitors also felt a strong sense of attachment to the festival.

"They often spoke about how Christmas was not complete without a visit to Lobethal. Many people recounted childhood memories of visiting Lobethal and how they now brought their children or grandchildren to see the lights," Dr Rofe says.

The results of this research have been presented at the Institute of Australian Geographers national conference, and will soon be published in the international journal Rural Studies.


Contact Details

Dr Matthew Rofe
Geographical and Environmental Studies
The University of Adelaide
Business: +61 8 8313 4655
Mobile: 0418 407 848