Bright lights, big rain­drops

In­clement weather can’t halt the start of ‘Mir­a­cle on 34th Street’ hol­i­day dis­play

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - FRONT PAGE -

Year after year, Bob and Dar­lene Hosier un­pack their ever-grow­ing as­sort­ment of Christ­mas dec­o­ra­tions and set out to trans­form their Ham­p­den rowhome.

There are the dozens of over­sized candy canes, the col­lec­tion of Santa dolls, the yards upon yards upon yards of twin­kling lights. The Hosiers have ac­cu­mu­lated enough of this hol­i­day gear to fill three trac­tor-trail­ers.

Their home is per­haps the crown jewel of Bal­ti­more’s an­nual “Mir­a­cle on 34th Street” light dis­play, a neigh­bor­hood tra­di­tion the Hosiers say dates back nearly three­quar­ters of a cen­tury. At ex­actly 6 p.m. Satur­day, the hol­i­day lights at nearly ev­ery home on the 700 block flipped on, mark­ing the city’s un­of­fi­cial start to the hol­i­day sea­son.

This year’s kick­off was wet­ter than any in Bob Hosier’s mem­ory. Roughly an hour be­fore the lights flipped on, he sat in his base­ment mon­i­tor­ing the weather forecast on his lap­top. It didn’t look good. Rain poured down upon the block for hours Satur­day night, heav­ily sup­press­ing the typ­i­cal turnout.

“Shout out to all the die-hard lights fans out here in the rain,” Hosier, 61, shouted from his front porch, min­utes be­fore the big mo­ment.

Typ­i­cally, a man dressed as Santa leads the count­down be­fore the lights are switched on. But the rain led Santa to can­cel for the first time in at least two decades, Hosier said, and the neigh­bor­hood had to make do with just their own boom­ing voices. Hosier said he un­der­stands the need for a last­minute change.

“That’s a pretty ex­pen­sive cos­tume Santa has,” he said.

In the end, just a few dozen peo­ple proved to be un­de­terred by the dreary weather, the Auer­bach fam­ily among them.

“You stick with the tra­di­tion no mat­ter what,” said Carol Auer­bach, 56.

Her hus­band, Craig, was ini­tially wor­ried that the street would be too packed with peo­ple to al­low him space to stretch out his um­brella. In years past, the streets have been to­tally con­gested, full of hun­dreds of rev­el­ers who ex­claim in de­light when the lights flip on. But this year, it was just small pock­ets of peo­ple wan­der­ing along the side­walks and star­ing up at the elab­o­rate dis­plays.

Though the rain kept many fam­i­lies away Satur­day, the win­ter won­der­land will stay up through Jan. 1. The lights are on from around 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. ev­ery night ex­cept for Christ­mas Eve and Christ­mas Day. On those days, they will shine all night.

Hosier has got­ten used to dis­pelling myths about the over-the-top dis­plays, like that BGE sub­si­dizes the en­ergy costs or that home­own­ers are con­trac­tu­ally ob­li­gated to par­tic­i­pate.

It’s en­tirely up to each neigh­bor to opt in to the tra­di­tion. Most houses do, though, pick­ing their own themes and sig­na­ture dec­o­ra­tions. There’s a Christ­mas tree made out of hub­caps and an­other con­structed from records. Bal­ti­more icons like the Natty Boh and Utz char­ac­ters ap­pear in col­or­ful lights. There’s a Hanukkah-themed rowhome out­fit­ted with blue-and-white lights and a meno­rah.

While many of the orig­i­nal fam­i­lies who em­braced “Mir­a­cle on 34th Street” have moved on, the tra­di­tion con­tin­ues to grow.

“The young peo­ple com­ing in to the neigh­bor­hood don’t mind get­ting in the mood and do­ing it, too,” Hosier said. “That’s en­cour­ag­ing.”

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