I grew up in Charm City, the town in which many of director John Waters’ ingenious films are based. Anyone that’s ever visited Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood (the self-proclaimed “home of big hair”) will tell you the area’s brimming with characters. Never is this more evident than during the holiday season.
For as long as I can remember, the houses that line 34th Street in Baltimore have made a big to-do about Christmas. From late November to January 1, this tight-knit community transforms itself into a marvelous wonderland of kitsch and lights, where residents invite you onto their stoops and into their homes to see more model trains, dolls, Santas, and blow-up grinches than you thought existed in the universe. It’s like a block party. In the middle of winter.
For 17 years (although residents have been stringing lights here for 60), thousands have traveled on foot (you can drive through, but hoofing it’s more fun) through the tiny street of traditional rowhouses, resident “Mayor of 34th Street” Sharon Burke told the local television station in this video. Last year, 45,000 visitors came through, said Burke. This year, no less than 25 homes are lit up and plastered with holiday cheer. From the Christmas tree made out of hubcaps and angels made of National Bohemian beer cans, you’re sure to find some holiday cheer in true Baltimore style.
While you’re in the area, Hampden is also home to the cheeky, flamingo-covered Cafe Hon, where they sell all manner of tongue-in-cheek Baltimore memorabilia. They’ve even compiled an online dictionary of the Baltimore accent known as “Bawlmerese.” After seeing the lights, warm up with a pastry and coffee at the New System Bakery, another Hampden institution, open until 10 p.m. all December long.
- Nat Geo Expeditions