The man behind Auckland's most beloved Christmas display

Christmas is expensive so it's good to know there are some fun things you can do that won't break the bank. 

Every year Ponsonby's Franklin Rd lights up to celebrate Christmas. It's the 26th year residents have decorated their homes with festive lighting, drawing tens of thousands of visitors annually who don't have to pay a dime. 

But nothing's really free. The lights are paid for by the residents of Franklin Rd, who, according to organiser Ross Thorby, "spend what they feel they can afford to". 

Not everyone who lives on the street participates, Mr Thorby admits, but he says that's not an issue because "everybody who lives on this street has got a story of their own ". 

"I think you have to be a certain type of person to live on Franklin Rd in the first place because of the reputation of the lights," he told Newshub. 

"There have been some great people through the street - it's an amazing street to live on and I think the lights have helped bring about a sense of community."

It all started with a small dinner party at Mr Thorby's house 26 years go. 

"We went out and turned the lights on while we were having a drink. And the next year we got some of the neighbours involved and it just grew from there," he said. 

"One year there was a couple of houses lit when I started doing it and then it evolved into 50 houses and then it was 75 houses and now there's 104 this year."

As the popularity of the Franklin Rd lights grew over year years, it became an event in itself, with an opening night on December 1 signalling the Christmas season. 

For many years, Mr Thorby met the opening night costs himself, which involved inviting a local celebrity to switch on the lights and organising gifts for the children in attendance. 

This year was no exception with large crowds gathered along the street on the evening of Saturday December 1. The Topp Twins Dame Lynda and Dame Jools made an appearance, alongside Santa, of course. 

The Waitemata Board now steps in to ease the financial burden a bit. A spokesperson told Newshub the board contributes around $7000 to Mr Thorby to help fund the opening night and extra rubbish bins for the event. 

"We appreciate what we get from the Waitemata Board but it's not something that we went out and sought," said Mr Thorby. 

"I don't want to see [the event] changing so much that it's taken over by commercial interest. We've always insisted it's one of the few free things you can do with your kids at Christmas."

As for the cost of operating the Christmas lights, Mr Thorby says LED bulbs and solar-power have helped to bring it down significantly. 

"There were years in the very beginning when my electricity bill would go up $400 a month," he said. 

"Now with LEDs and solar-powered lights I barely notice it on my power bill at all. I could run the whole house for a month on what it would take to boil the kettle."

A Vector spokesperson said when all the Franklin Rd lights are on at night it doesn't notice a material difference to its network load because people tend to consume less electricity during summer anyway. 

"Because it is summertime and demand is lower compared to the winter months, the network handles what extra load there is without the need for backup or support of any kind."

Despite the added responsibility of running the Franklin Rd Christmas lights every year, residents aren't interested in receiving any more financial aid, Mr Thorby says. 

"That's one of the things that we're quite keen on - not to have sponsorship or commercialisation. We don't get a rates reduction - no one give us any money towards putting the lights up."

The motivation comes from community spirit, he says, and bringing smiles to children's faces. 

"They're not being paid to do it," he said of his neighbours. 

"They do it because they want to do it."