Atime came Friday afternoon when it became far too much to try to process the news coming out of Connecticut.
So I turned away from my computer and the television in my line of vision, propped my elbows on my desk, held my cheeks in my hands, and stared. When I looked down, I saw a news release from the City of North Tonawanda announcing the winners of the annual Christmas Lighting Contest, including the “Clark Griswold Award, 74 Cramer Street.”
The thought of an award named for the Chevy Chase character in the movie “Christmas Vacation,” who puts so many lighted decorations on his house that it sets his electric meter gauges spinning like propellers, brought something unlikely on that day: a smile.
I needed to chase that feeling. I needed a little Christmas. I needed to go to 74 Cramer St.
Kris and Jim Nachreiner, parents of seven and grandparents of five, all girls younger than 3, are no strangers to the Griswold Award. They have won it in two of the last three years.
It doesn’t take long to see why.
Their holiday decorating theme, if you can call it that, seems to be “As Much Christmas Stuff As We Can Possibly Fit on the House, Garage and Lawn.” There is a Nativity scene; characters from television classics such as Charlie Brown, the Grinch and Rudolph; Santa in a helicopter; Santa in his sleigh; Santa on a seesaw with a reindeer; an elephant; Elmo; a snowman; toy soldiers; reindeer with moving parts; a moose; candy canes; a bear; wrapped boxes; a star; and enough lights plugged in to make their electric bill jump by about $120 in January.
The process to get to this point starts in mid-November, when the Nachreiners begin assembling the items they have collected over 10 years together.
“On Thanksgiving night, we can hit the power button and rock and roll for six weeks,” Jim said.
This is not a display that looks like it was designed by a Hollywood special-effects department to be operated by timer and computer program. This one comes courtesy of after-Christmas sales, recycled pieces that someone else discarded and a lot of hard work that went into handmade items such as the phone booth that Jim made to keep the Grinch safe from the elements. It is not elegant in its simplicity. It is over the top, garish and without a hint of nuance.
In other words, it’s awesome.
Apparently a lot of other people feel the same way. A steady stream of pedestrians and cars full of people come by to take a look every year. Some knock on the door to say thank you, others ask for permission to take pictures. Many of the visitors are the gasping, wide-eyed child variety.
“We do this for the kids,” Jim said.
Cramer is a narrow dead-end street, which means that people who drive by will take one look as they pass, turn around at the corner or in a nearby driveway and look again. But the neighbors don’t seem to mind.
While Kris and Jim proudly showed off their collection Sunday, two drove by and honked and waved.
Tonight at the Common Council meeting, the Nachreiners and other decoration-loving families will be recognized for spreading happiness during a time when it will be almost impossible to not think about the families who will never feel the joy of this season again.
It’s for that reason that some people won’t put their lights up this year or have taken them down early. To them, it feels wrong to celebrate anything.
If you’re not in the mood for holiday cheer, that’s perfectly understandable.
But if you need to smile, 74 Cramer St. is waiting.