A visit to Milwaukee's famous 'Candy Cane Lane'
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
It's just a few days before Christmas, but the holiday spirit in some places has been going strong since late November. Hundreds of residents near Milwaukee string up lights and display decorations in a neighborhood that they call - at least during the winter holidays - Candy Cane Lane. It's a tradition that spreads cheer and also serves a purpose. Eddie Morales of member station WUWM takes us there.
(SOUNDBITE OF BELLS JINGLING)
RAY LAZARSKI: (Laughter) Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, ho ho ho ho (ph).
R LAZARSKI: Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas.
EDDIE MORALES, BYLINE: You might recognize who this jolly fellow is dressed in his signature red and white clothes. It's Santa peeking his head inside car windows and greeting visitors. Dozens of cars snake around the block here in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee. Trees are wrapped in white and red paper to look like candy canes throughout the neighborhood.
R LAZARSKI: I smile the whole time I'm here. It's just so much fun, especially when the little ones say - you are real.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Hi.
R LAZARSKI: Hi. Merry Christmas.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: There you go.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Oh, wow.
MORALES: Ray Lazarski is a volunteer Santa, and he and his wife, Joline, are part of Candy Cane Lane's effort to raise funds to fight childhood cancer. People drop donations in buckets as they drive or walk by to see the holiday displays. Besides the holiday lights, there are snacks too, like crates filled with candy and dog treats. Outside one brightly lit home, inflatable snowmen and cartoon characters sway with the cold wind as music plays and volunteers chat with kids.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #1: Hey, guys, you know who's up here? Santa Claus. Are you ready for Santa?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Yeah.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Just dropped off our letters at the North Pole Express mailbox.
UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #1: All right, he's up there.
UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #2: Here you go.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Thank you.
UNIDENTIFIED VOLUNTEER #2: Merry Christmas.
UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Merry Christmas. Have a good one, guys.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #3: Merry Christmas.
MORALES: The long line of cars at Candy Cane Lane's entrance is growing. Joline Lazarski, who has volunteered for a decade, says that's no surprise. This holiday tradition has been ongoing since 1985, and everyone knows the lights and excitement are just part of the festivities.
JOLINE LAZARSKI: Help supporting the MACC Fund and childhood cancer research is a really important part because I think everybody knows somebody's life that was touched by cancer. So it's close to home.
MORALES: Frank Donald (ph) has been witness to the generosity and to the crowds. He's lived in the neighborhood for 37 years. His house is one of the most decorated. A projector casts falling snowflakes on the home's facade. Hundreds of LED lights illuminate the prop snowmen on display, and a large painted sign on his lawn reads, welcome to Candy Cane Lane.
FRANK DONALD: Everybody seems to love it. I mean, you know, our sign gets a lot of attention. A lot of people come into the yard and just get pictures taken.
MORALES: For Megan Moss (ph), it's a familiar sight. She visits West Allis' Candy Cane Lane every year.
MEGAN MOSS: There's definitely some lights that are the same, so we always go back to, like, our favorite ones. But there's some new lights, and it's always really fun to see, like, what's the new trend this year and what kind of blow ups there'll be and that kind of stuff.
MORALES: What are some of your favorites?
MOSS: There's a giant tree at the end of the street that they light up the entire thing. That's definitely my favorite.
MORALES: It might be hard for some to choose a favorite among the swirl of color and twinkling lights. Mike Malloy (ph), who's lived in his home for nearly 20 years, says it used to be a friendly competition for the best decorations among his neighbors. But he laughs and says that changed when new folks moved in. He points to the house next to his.
MIKE MALLOY: And she was actually set up before Halloween...
MALLOY: ...Or literally right after Halloween.
MORALES: That's a little too early for many in the neighborhood, but most decorations are up by Thanksgiving. That's when Candy Cane Lane officially opens, and the place stays lit in the effort to fight childhood cancer through Christmas Day. For NPR News, I'm Eddie Morales in Milwaukee.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARTHUR WARRELL SONG, "WE WISH YOU A MERRY CHRISTMAS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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