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Meet the Nieratkos - Powered Up Christmas

Watch the Nieratkos, Uncle Lonnie, The Vans team, and Black Tarzan celebrate Christmas the Nieratko way.
December 23, 2011, 12:00am

Christmas is and always has been my favorite time of the year. Growing up my house was complete chaos 364 days of the year but for one glorious day the old man would either pretend to be human or get so wasted he passed out so we wouldn't have to deal with him and there was peace. For that one day I could imagine what normal people's homes were like. All through life I've tried to hold on to that feeling every time I see Christmas lights or hear carols.


I decided once I got clean and relatively sober that I would harness the power of my addictive personality and focus it on something worthwhile: Decorating my home with Christmas lights. I knew the insanity of 120-watt overkill would be the means to my sanity.

Five years ago I started small. Each year I've been amassing more and more lights and decorations and ideas. Last year was my son's first real Christmas. The first one didn't count; he was only three months old and just a blob that couldn't do any tricks. But last year he seemed to know what was going on and so I tried to wow him with my lawn design. When I fired them up on Thanksgiving 2010 he rolled his eye in disinterest and went and chewed on the couch.

Between my son making me feel completely inadequate and me learning about a secret society of Christmas light guys in my area that thought my house was total bullshit because I only bought off the rack, I knew I had to step up my game for 2011. To gain entrance into the secret society a large portion of your decorations needs to be handmade. Out came the sketchbook. A million ideas came to my mind but it was all madness, all over the place, no rhyme or reason.

I needed a theme to tie it all together.

A few years ago I helped my mentor and neighbor, Tony Riccardelli (seen in the video) with his lights. His kids kept asking me where I lived and couldn't place my house.

"I'm the one with the 1960 Cadillac and the '72 El Camino in the driveway," I said, figuring this would clear it up easily since I'm the only guy with old cars in our neighborhood. They still couldn't place where I lived.


Then Tony says to them, "He's the one with the candy canes."

And then they knew. A Christmas family. They only know houses by their decorations.

It's that notion that brought everything together for me this year. I already had a perimeter of candy canes, why not run with that?

I ordered 2 10-foot tall lighted candy cane archways.

300 feet of red rope light

50 sets of red Christmas lights (you wouldn't believe how hard it is to find red lights on the street)

I took 2 10-foot lengths of ¾-inch PVC piping, cut them down, and threw elbows on them to make 8-foot candy canes for the end of the driveway.

Cut 9 sheets of weather treated ¾-inch plywood into 3-foot tall letters spelling MERRY CHRISTMAS in a Bussey font.

Discarded any lights and decorations that didn't have a red-and-white design to them.

Wrapped my sycamore tree in white plastic and red ribbon to give the appearance of a candy cane.

All in all I think it turned out OK. It still needs work and I have ideas that I want to implement next year that I didn't get to in 2011.

I planned on making a carport the length and width of my driveway, which is 25 feet wide by 50 feet long. My initial plan was to use the same ¾-inch PVC pipe I'd used for the end of the driveway candy canes, but with our harsh and windy New Jersey winters I couldn't figure out a way to keep it from collapsing. Now I have the answer.

There's a fellow two towns over that Riccardelli looks up to. This guy is an electrical genius. He cruises neighborhoods on junk day looking for old computer hard drives for their motors and he buys windshield wiper motors from junkyards and uses them to power all the automated figures he builds by hand. Amazing. Well, he has my archway of lights idea over his driveway, although his are rather sparse with only 8 arches in place, 10 feet apart. I want to make a tunnel of lights with up to 35 arches spaced one and a half feet apart. He told me to use half-inch electrical pipe because it bends easy without breaking and to hammer in three-foot lengths of rebar and that will hold it in place.

Aside from that I need more power in general. With the increasing of lights each year I'm having a hard time powering them. I had to piggyback on the breakers for my wife's washer and dryer just to get more juice. Basically from Thanksgiving to January 6th my wife can't do laundry after 4 PM.

My home and most homes have 100-amp service. If I'm going to truly step up my game I'm told I need to up it to a 250-amp service. That alone is going to run me $2500 for the install and tapping into the pole outside.


Are you still reading? Sorry. I sort of lose myself in the topic when I get going.

The point of this is that I just wanted to say Merry Christmas to all you readers and to everyone at Vans for allowing me to act out my childhood dreams in these tweaked Christmas specials. I hope you enjoy and have a safe and happy holidays.

If that wasn't enough holiday cheer for you, check out last year's Christmas special right here.

PS: Season 3 of Adventures with Chris is shaping up quite nicely, as you can see from that sexy Daniel Lutheran photo.

More stupid can be found at and @Nieratko

Previously - Todd Bratrud Made a Book