Hampden kicks off holiday season with its Miracle on 34th Street light display

Hampden's Miracle on 34th St. lights up for the holiday season

Even before Heather Franz and Riley Wilks moved into their rowhouse on 34th Street in Hampden this summer, their future neighbors all had one question.

"What's your theme?" Franz recalled with a smile Saturday afternoon as the couple worked to finish their outdoor Christmas decorations.

As new residents on the tight-knit block, Franz and Wilks took part for the first time in a long-standing tradition — Hampden's "Miracle on 34th Street," the quirky light display that draws visitors from around the region.

The temperature was above 60 degrees as crowds gathered in the street Saturday to kick off the holiday season despite a little drizzling rain.

"Here he comes!" people shouted as Santa Claus waved from the back of a pickup truck and countless strings of Christmas lights brightened the sky.

William Washington, 45, of Baltimore said he enjoys visiting the display because it isn't commercialized like many parts of Christmas.

"I can't imagine what their light bill's like," he said of the residents who live there.

Snowmen, an inflatable teddy bear, reindeer and Darth Vader all play a part in the displays that line the street's 700 block.

For their inaugural display, Franz and Wilks put up candy canes, pink flamingos and an angel made from bike wheels.

Having moved from a rental in Federal Hill, the couple didn't previously have much Christmas decor. They didn't want their red brick home to be "a blank spot," Wilks said.

"We're very new into this game," said Wilks, a 32-year-old IT worker. "A lot of neighbors have been offering up extra Christmas lights."

Franz and Wilks said that as prospective home buyers, they hoped the Christmas tradition was a sign that the block had a real sense of community.

So far, the neighborhood has lived up to their expectations. They speak to their neighbors daily.

"The Christmas spirit of giving … it carries on the whole year," said Franz, 30, an environmental science student at the University of Baltimore.

For resident Jessi Baroody, 27, living on 34th Street feels like she has come full circle.

"I used to come here as a little girl," said Baroody, a studio mechanic who has worked on TV shows including "House of Cards" and "Veep."

She and her roommates, who all work in film, wanted to pay homage to their industry, she said. They decorated with props including cans of hairspray to symbolize the John Waters film.

A few doors down, Shacara Waithe, who recently had a baby, said she couldn't have decorated without the help of her neighbors this year. Waithe used to live in New Orleans and loved the artistic vibe of the city, she said. So for Christmas, her porch is dressed up with Mardi Gras masks and a fleur-de-lis flag.

On this block, "everybody helps each other," Waithe said.

"You can't beat that," she said as she sat on her porch with her Shih Tzu, Rio. "That's what Christmas is about, right?'"

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