Tinsel to sweep, stars to tape, garlands to drape, and lights — so many strings of lights — to twist along trees and porches, before the annual "Miracle on 34th Street" lighting ceremony.
"Did you fluff the tree?" Elaine Doyle-Gillespie asked her husband, Ed, motioning to a small, artificial tree festooned with bright flags. "You have to pull the branches out."
Friends of the couple weaved through their postage-stamp front yard, arranging lanterns representing Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist traditions on plastic trees. The Doyle-Gillespies, who have a sign proclaiming their white rowhouse "The Peace House," got a late start decorating this year because of a surprise gift — a new daughter.
The couple learned just two weeks ago that a child was available for them to adopt. A week ago, they brought 2-month-old Piper home.
"I'm already getting teary-eyed thinking about it," said Elaine Doyle-Gillespie, 40, the assistant head of school at the nearby Greenmount School. "Our friends, my husband, and our daughter for her first lighting."
Her neighbor Robert Hosier, 54, said that while the block was always festive, he started the tradition of stringing lights from one side of the street to the other about 20 years ago. Hosier, who works at the port of Baltimore, has one of the street's most elaborate displays, featuring animated carolers and snowmen.
Farther down the block, Harmonie Sahalou, 25, was sweeping the sidewalk in front of her fiance's home while a houseful of guests trooped up and down the stairs. Sahalou and her fiance, Vi Nguyen, 29, are fans of vinyl records and crafted a tree and a snowman from old LPs they bought at an auction house on The Avenue, the neighborhood's retail hub.
The couple, both engineers, began decorating Saturday, the day that the neighborhood traditionally flips the switch on the glittering annual display that draws visitors from around the country.
Nearby, artist Jim Pollock, was preparing to open his home, which doubles as an art gallery, to visitors. Pollock, 45, has lived on the block since he graduated from the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1989.
The first year, a neighbor dropped a few strings of lights on his porch, and said, "Do something with them," Pollock recalled. Pollock and his friends, members of Generation X, traced the letter "X" in lights that first year, he said.
Since then, Pollock's display has gotten considerably more elaborate. An artist who works with metal, he created a 10-foot tree from hubcaps, a crab-themed metal tree hung with cans of Old Bay, and snowmen from bike wheels welded together.
Pollock displays his own art, as well as works by friends, in his living room. Last December, 27,000 visitors came through in 30 days, he said.
He stepped onto his porch — decorated with a carp, spaceman and duck fashioned from old tools and other recycled metal parts — as the sun set amid ripples of gold and plum clouds.
"That's God's way of saying, 'You can't compete, 34th Street,'" he said.
As darkness fell, hundreds of visitors crowded onto the block. Around 5:30, Santa arrived, riding in a pickup truck with Mrs. Claus, her hair in a white beehive. Children swarmed around the truck as it crawled down the crowded street.
From the back of the pickup, Santa led the crowd in the countdown. Then the lights came ablaze.
"At least I lived long enough to see it," said Anna Wood, 84, of Catonsville, who was there for the first time. Surrounded by four generations of family, she stood in the middle of the street looking up at the lights.
East Baltimore resident Janet Anderson said the scene gave her chills. "It's like something out of a fairy tale, like something on TV," she said.