Baltimore's 'Miracle on 34th Street' lights up despite the rain

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 three-quarters 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 last-minute 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.”

This is Emilie Clingerman’s third Christmas in the neighborhood, and the first one since she’s lived with her boyfriend, Jason Nicholls.

Together, they decided on an Ocean City theme, complete with a wave made of lights, crabs and seagulls.

They’ve liked getting to know neighbors through the tradition, and Clingerman says it’s heartwarming to hear children yell out how cool the lights are.

“It’s fun,” said Clingerman, 34. “It reminds me of the neighborhood where I grew up.”

Nicholls said the couple is just getting started.

“We’re going to add to the decorations,” he said, “as the years go on.”

trichman@baltsun.com

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