Ten Minutes with Ron Merriman
The creator of the Torrington Christmas House
Photo by Wendy Carlson
Ron Merriman had a hard life with his father, who hated all things Christmas, which is what drove him to create his now nationally famous Torrington Christmas House: he fills every square inch of his three-story blue house at 287 Main Street with 135,000 colored lights, animatronic Santas, snowmen, reindeer, and endless other kitsch, for the 20,000 people who visit each year. He talks at warp speed, but beneath the curmudgeon facade is a good-hearted guy.
What drove you to create this amazing place?
My father was mean. When I was 17, growing up in Harwinton, I put up a Christmas tree, and he didn’t want nothing to do with it. He busted up the tree and threw it out. I’d make a little nativity scene in my bedroom, where my father couldn’t mess with it. In my 20s I went to the Festival of Lights in Hartford with my girlfriend. That blew my mind. I knew I wanted to do something like that, I knew I wanted to go all out and celebrate like my father wouldn’t allow.
How did you start, and then how did it evolve into what it is today?
I bought this house and did my first public display in 1982. It was a five-foot Christmas tree and a nativity scene. Then I started really collecting. Flea markets, tag sales. Every year, day after Christmas, I go to stores for the sales. I get lights for 40 cents a box. But this antique stuff you can’t buy no more: the old bubbler lights, the vintage Santas from the 1950s, the Biedermeier ornaments, the Steinbach nutcrackers. I’ve got over 1,000 pieces now.
Do you live there year-round?
Yes, with my mother and sister. I’ve usually got the giant Uncle Sam and Mrs. Sam figures out front. And I decorate for Easter. But kids come along and shoot the Easter bunnies with paint ball guns. And I’m not doing Halloween anymore because some idiot lit the hay display on fire.
Do you believe in Santa?
Yeah, I believe in Santa. This woman was here with her kids. One kid was sitting there, crying. I said, “What’s wrong?” He said, “My father just left my mother. We’re not gonna have Christmas this year.” I checked it out, told the mayor what was up. We went on a mission and got them all new toys, sleds, coats, boots. That woman I never talked to afterwards. But she went by my house one day and gave me a thumbs up.
When do you start decorating, and do you have help?
The day after Labor Day. No, I don’t have help. I do it all myself. I’ve lost a few girlfriends, I spend so much time on the house. The TV show, “The Great Christmas Light Fight” asked me if I want to be on their show. I said no. The winner is always some guy who sat there and paid for crews and cranes to do it for him. They put up all this modern crap and they get trophies. I want nothing to do with that.
How much electricity does it require?
It takes 8,000 kilowatts and costs $1,800 for the season—the day after Thanksgiving through January 15. I don’t charge admission. I’ve got a donation box out, but most people walk right by it. Maybe this year will be different.