Aglow for Christmas: Palmerton man uses skill to build light display to benefit pantry
An overhead shot of Todd Merkel’s “Stoney Ridge Lights” display in Palmerton. CONTRIBUTED BY TODD MERKEL.
Merkel makes each piece of his display on his own, and programs the light show himself.
Todd Merkel’s “Stoney Ridge Lights” display in Palmerton features a 17-minute show of color-changing trees, set to the tunes of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. Scan this photo with the Prindeo app for a video of the lights. BRIAN W. MYSZKOWSKI/TIMES NEWS
A reindeer and polar bear trek across Merkel’s lawn.
Santa warms himself by the fire as he fishes at the pond.
When it comes to Christmas lights, most people are content to throw a few strings around the windows and doors and call it a day.
For Todd Merkel, that is simply not an option.
Merkel has been decking out his Palmerton home and lawn with a full-blown light display, known as “Stoney Ridge Lights,” for the past five years. And no, this isn’t some run-of-the-mill setup purchased from Home Depot.
Merkel has handcrafted each and every item in his display, from Charlie Brown and Snoopy to Santa by the fireside.
He builds the frames, affixes the lights and programs the show. It’s a passion project, and one that has delighted visitors ever since he first started.
“All the metal decorations, I make in my shop over there. It’s metal fabricated, made by hand and I install the lights,” he said.
When he isn’t putting on extravagant light shows, Merkel works as a mechanic for the Palmerton Borough. He’s been a pivotal part of the Christmas in the Park display since year one, and that holiday love clearly extends to his own projects.
“Electronics is a hobby of mine, I love it,” Merkel said. “The first year I watched the ‘Christmas Light Fight,’ I thought to myself, ‘I can do that.’ That started the light show part of it. I already had a static display at that point.”
Of course, he wouldn’t be able to make it work without some help from his girlfriend, Jackie, as well as a bit of troubleshooting assistance from fellow Christmas enthusiasts.
“Physical setup is probably in the beginning of October,” Merkel said. “My girlfriend helps me with the setup. I couldn’t do it without her.”
Along with Santa, the reindeer, a polar bear and some other familiar characters, the lawn in front of Merkel’s house features a Nativity display.
There’s a “Merry Christmas” display right in front of the garage between another Santa and a snowman.
On the side lawn, right in the front of the three light trees, you’ll see an illuminated pond with a fisherman, and a fish hopping out of the water.
“That’s one of the original props that I had from four years ago,” Merkel said. “That was the start of the animation part of it.”
While the display itself is magnificent, if you can spare about 17 minutes, stick around for the full experience, which includes a radio program to go along with the light show. Simply park your car in the lot across from Merkel’s home on Mauch Chunk Road — if you don’t know where it is, you aren’t looking — and tune your radio to 95.5 FM at 5:30 p.m.
A brilliant cascade of colors and patterns illuminates the three large trees, patterned to the intense holiday tracks of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.
Merkel has been escalating his lighting game each year, constantly making alterations to make it bigger and better.
“This is the fifth year of a larger scale display, and the fourth year of a musical show. It keeps progressing every year, I keep learning more, changing, adding, keeping up with technology.”
Keeping with the Christmas spirit, Merkel has a set up a drop box next to a bus shelter for donations to the Christian Action Council of Palmerton Area Churches. Visitors are encouraged to drop off some food when they park for the show.
“Three years ago, I did it for the Blue Mountain Food Drive. That kind of dropped off, so I started doing it on my own for CACPAC. I just figured, why not give back to the community a little? People are coming to watch the lights, why not drop off some food and help out?” he said.
Merkel has had a fair share of Christmas fanatics ask how he does it all, and he’s more than happy to offer some advice.
He offers recommendations, and even helps program other people’s displays.
It’s all part of his exuberant Christmas spirit, and you can bet it’s going to keep growing for years and years, just like the display.
“I always loved the lights,” he said. “This is my grandmother’s house, and I remember as a kid there used to be a lot of trees here. Every tree that I could reach, I had Christmas lights in it. It’s amazing how this hobby has expanded and took off in the last few years.”