You will find few traditions more authentically old-school, blue-collar Baltimore than the Christmas decorations in Hampden. Every December, residents of the mostly working-class neighborhood seek to outdo themselves and each other in dressing up their rowhomes for the holidays. If, like me, you're the sort whose taste in holiday decorating runs toward understated white lights and wooden ornaments from Kiev, you'll either gape in horrified fascination at -- or else run screaming from -- the flashing, spangled, beribboned, garlanded, animatronic, inflatable cacophony of colorful kitsch that spreads across the neighborhood like a particularly festive virus.
Hampden's ornament fever culminates in a veritable orgy of holiday cheer in the 700 block of 34th Street, the lights of which can probably be seen from the International Space Station. In the nights leading up to Christmas, traffic clogs the little backstreets as visitors from far and near slow down to ogle the glowing spectacle.
This is not to say that the spectacle isn't pretty, ah, spectacular during the day. The "Christmas Street" offers up some astounding displays of ingenuity and imagination, like this crab sleigh:
You'll also see stuff that looks like a passing John Waters movie got drunk and threw up in someone's back yard:
And, of course, you'll run into the downright creepy:
But it's hard to be a snob when you're in Hampden, especially at this time of year. The creativity, effort, and sheer delight that are so obviously poured into the annual decoration frenzy are hard to resist.
Yes, regardless of where you're from or what your tastes are, if you bask for long enough in the Yuletide sparkle of the hubcap tree, you might just come to see a little bit of yourself reflected in Hampden's holiday spirit.
(Okay, so that was cheesy. Sorry.)