The show goes on for 34th Street Christmas lights in Hampden

Hampden Christmas lights usher in the holiday season

A burst of light brightened one of Baltimore's best-known blocks Saturday as crowds gathered in Hampden to greet a holiday tradition. Revelers cheered as residents of the row homes flipped on their famous light displays, known as the Miracle on 34th Street.

This year's version of the beloved Christmas display had been in doubt. In September some residents threatened to keep the lights off because of concerns about neighborhood crime. Fears grew following a string of incidents that included the armed robbery of the Subway on Falls Road and the beating of a 67-year-old man who was picking up trash.

They ultimately decided that the show would go on — and residents said Saturday that they were happy to keep the lights shining.

"It was upsetting to think that the Miracle on 34th wouldn't happen," said resident Ilsa Bailey, who moved to the block in March.

Another resident, Bob Hosier, said people in the neighborhood have noticed additional police presence and faster response to calls since residents spoke out about their concerns.

City police "said they would step up patrols," Hosier said. "I felt pretty comfortable with that."

Ed Doyle-Gillespie said there had never been consensus among residents about the idea of canceling the event. He and his wife, Elaine, adorn their home with peace-themed decorations, including a peace sign wreath and a banner, "Pray for peace, act for peace."

"We do this as a community because we love to bring joy to people," Elaine Doyle-Gillespie said. "We enjoy making people happy."

Andre and Pamela Fulton of Northeast Baltimore brought their grandchildren to the event for the first time. It would have been a big disappointment if the neighborhood had canceled "a chance to see something spectacular," Andre Fulton said.

"Look how many people are around," he said.

The lights are scheduled to stay on evenings through Jan 2.

For residents of 34th Street's 700 block, the displays take dedication to prepare.

A few hours before the lights came on, Harmonie Nguyen crouched to sweep leaves from her front steps as her husband and his friends worked from the roof to hang a Christmas tree-shaped light display. They created decorations based on a music theme, with a nativity scene made of record albums painted gold.

Nguyen said her favorite part of the tradition is the people. "The entire neighborhood comes out," she said. "Our old friends will come by to help."

This year, the lights are drawing attention all the way from Japan. A crew from the Japan Broadcasting Corp. is working on a piece about the 34th Street tradition for a documentary series there.

Field producer Jinn Nishimura said they have been working for months researching and filming. He has witnessed a true "community spirit" in Hampden during that time, he said.

"This street just stands out," he said as photographers filmed Hosier preparing for the festivities. "It's not like any other neighborhood in Baltimore."

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