Christmas meant nothing after mum's death
THE festive season lost all meaning for Phil Greenbury when he lost his mother on Christmas Day.
Mr Greenbury, who is now senior pastor of the Lifepointe Baptist Church, was just 17 when his mother Betty suffered a stroke and passed away suddenly.
She was just 47 years old.
"The whole family was affected because we were teenagers and we really needed a mum around at the time," Mr Greenbury said.
"It was also difficult with my younger sister being just eight years old and someone had to look after her all the time, so my two older brothers and I took on bigger roles in supporting her.
"Each Christmas became really hard to celebrate because it brought back all the memories of the sadness and how quickly mum had died."
Mr Greenbury said it wasn't until he was 20 and became a Christian that he found a reason to celebrate Christmas again.
"It put a whole new slant on Christmas for me.
"Rather than allowing it to continue to be a sad time, I realised it was to celebrate the good news that Jesus came to be the saviour of the world."
Moving to the Sunshine Coast 20 years ago, Mr Greenbury became the senior pastor at Lifepointe and was the instigator of the musical production and light display that attracts around 30,000 people in the 12 nights before Christmas.
In the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States, he noticed a number of major shopping centres remove their manger scenes and decided to take action.
"We wanted to do something to tell people the real story of Christmas," he said.
"There was all this bad news happening and we needed something to celebrate."
What started as a simple light display with a few stalls 12 years ago has evolved into a full Christmas program featuring a musical production, Bethlehem walk-through, animal farm and free activities and treats.
"We really didn't know it would be that important when we started it," he said.
"We wanted to do something more for the families at Christmas time.
"When we first put those lights up, we didn't know if anybody would even come in but they did and they just kept coming."
Mr Greenbury said volunteers spent countless hours preparing for the event, which sees around 2000 people visit each night.
"We get a real buzz out of seeing families coming through, spending time together being happy and they don't have to spend any money," he said.
"A lot of the kids for the first time are hearing about baby Jesus and what his story means.
"The highlight for us is seeing people coming through and celebrating the true meaning of Christmas."
Now, at the age of 59, Christmas has another meaning for Mr Greenbury.
He can bring joy and togetherness for families across the Coast.