Every evening from Thanksgiving weekend through New Year’s Day, the block of 34th Street inbetween Keswick Road and Chestnut Avenue in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood is decked out a holiday light display that’s unique to Baltimore.
When the street is aglow, candy canes line the sidewalks, musical model trains circle overhead, dolls sing and dance, inflatable decorations spill out of porches, and thousands—if not millions—of bulbs light up the block.
Visitors can cruise down the street in their warm cars, but to really take everything in its best to meander porch-by-porch. From afar, the street is dazzling in all its holiday glory, but up close each house has a flavor all its own. Yes, the block has the typical angels, nativity scenes and menorahs that can be found at any holiday light display. But then there are the Baltimore trademarks: a blinking Natty Boh and Utz Girl; a crab cut-out outlined in red lights; and some Ravens and Orioles decorations, too. You’ll even find some traditions unique to the block, like a peace-themed house decorated with doves and Tibetan prayer flags, and another house with a 10-foot tall Christmas tree made out of hubcaps by local artist Jim Pollock.
“Everybody adds a little something to the street,” says Bob Hosier, who is largely credited with starting the 34th Street tradition. Bob’s wife, Darlene, grew up in the house the couple lives in on 34th Street, and Bob began decorating it with lights and playing holiday music when he moved in more than 30 years ago. A neighbor across the street wanted to be able to enjoy the music, so Bob strung a speaker wire over to that neighbor’s house and covered the wire with lights. Other neighbors got together and asked Bob if he could string lights over the whole block, and the effect turned the street into a holiday destination. As media attention grew, more and more neighbors started joining in, and from there the whole thing snowballed.
The fact that the display takes place on 34th Street is purely a coincidence (although Bob does note that Miracle on 34th Street is his wife’s favorite movie). The real miracle, however, may be the way the neighbors come together to create the spectacle each year. According to Bob, there are no formal meetings amongst neighbors and they don’t pressure newcomers on the block into lighting up their house. Everyone joins in by choice. And despite rumors, the residents of 34th Street don’t get any assistance on their electric bills, either.
“It’s very hard for people to comprehend,” says Bob, referring to the fact that visitors often can’t believe how residents of 34th Street don’t charge any money or accept donations. “We just decorate some houses and everyone shows up.”
The tradition seems to get bigger—and brighter—every year. The block has landed on many best-of lists, including holiday light roundups by The Huffington Post, the Travel Channel and USA Today, to name a few. And it also brings a lot of people out to the neighborhood for a night of holiday lights coupled with shopping and dining on "The Avenue," a strip of cafes, vintage stores, art galleries, restaurants and antique shops on nearby 36th Street.
“We gave [the residents of] Hampden a place to go,” explains Bob, but they really gave all of Baltimore—and visitors to the city—a tradition to look forward to during the holiday season. “I never thought Christmas lights could do all this, but apparently it does,” he adds.
Stop by and see the Miracle on 34th Street in all its shining glory at the 700 Block of 34th Street (between Chestnut Ave. and Keswick Rd.).