Miracle on 34th Street: behind a beloved tradition

By ARIELLA SHUA | November 29, 2018

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COURTESY OF BOB HOSIER

A house on 34th street displays Utz and National Bohemian mascots.

Baltimore certainly recognizes the holiday season. Buses say “Happy Holidays,” the Inner Harbor has set up the Christmas Village and Homewood Campus is preparing for the Lighting of the Quads, which will take place on Dec. 10.

But for lifetime Baltimore resident Bob Hosier, the holiday spirit has been in the air since the summer. He began taking out his holiday decorations around the Fourth of July, put up his Halloween decorations in October and started preparing his Christmas decorations not long after. Even now that his house is decked out, he’s not sure that’s he done.

“I never really finish decorating the house,” Hosier said in an interview with The News-Letter. “I just stop putting stuff up.”

Hosier’s house is one which Baltimoreans treat as part of a holiday experience. His is one of 22 houses on 34th Street that traditionally go all-out for the holidays every year. It’s popular enough to have a name: “Miracle on 34th Street.”

The annual event is located between Chestnut Avenue and Keswick Road, on the 700 block of 34th street. Every year, thousands of visitors come out at night to marvel at the Christmas lights and holiday-themed decorations that the residents adorn their houses with. Hosier said that it has become a generational experience. The event has unofficially occurred for over 70 years, and some of the original visitors now bring their grandchildren.

Setting up and admiring Christmas lights was an important part of Hosier’s childhood. His family made it a holiday tradition — they would go driving around Baltimore to see the town’s lights. He began decorating when he was 10 and has kept it up all through his adulthood.

Hosier’s wife, Darlene Hosier, came from a decorating family as well. Her father, Carl Hughes, bought their house on 34th Street in 1947. He always decorated with Christmas lights and Darlene continued to do so after his death. The neighbors did as well, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary until Hosier and Darlene married and he moved in. 

“I started going a little crazy,” he explained.

Around 1990, Hosier had music playing along with his lights. A neighbor asked if he could make it louder, so Hosier set up a speaker. In order to keep with the appearance of the rest of the house, he wrapped it with Christmas lights. Other neighbors asked if he could hang more lights between the houses. That, he said, was the catalyst that led to a dramatic increase in the street’s holiday spirit.

By 1991, the Maryland State Lottery asked if they could use Hosier’s lights for a countdown. He agreed, and the visitors began pouring in. Thousands continue to come every year. Hosier loves it, but he doesn’t do it for the attention. 

“I wasn’t looking to be the best or the biggest... but I was certainly hoping some other people would spread the cheer around,” he said. 

The event begins annually on the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when the lights are turned on at 6 p.m. They will remain lit every night until 11 p.m. On Christmas Eve and the last night of December, they will stay lit all night long.

Though it is known to Baltimoreans as a unique city tradition, “Miracle on 34th Street” has fans around the country. HGTV featured the street in two different specials over the years. AOL has mentioned it as a top destination for viewing Christmas lights.

All of the residents plan their own decorations their own way — there is no theme governing the street. Residents once tried committees to have a uniform style but dropped it after a few years. 

“The easier you keep it, the less stressful it is,” Hosier said.

Hosier, now in his 50th year of decorating, tries to switch up his designs every year. He once had a model train running under his house. Another year he had a 12-foot pole decorated as a Christmas tree on his roof.

Though most families decorate their own houses on their own time, 34th Street residents make an event of it. Everyone begins to set up together, making fun of each other and sharing equipment. Though only seven of the original “Miracle on 34th Street” decorators are still in the neighborhood, newcomers are often eager to join in. The lighthearted atmosphere draws new residents in to the tradition, Hosier explained. “It’s like a giant party... they want to get involved,” he said. 

At the end of the day, Hosier doesn’t care whether or not the lights are admired by thousands or just twinkling for his own pleasure. The crowds are an added bonus, but he would put up the lights anyway. 

“Even if the whole world didn’t show up, I’d still do all this,” he said. 

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