Call it a miracle on 37th Street.
After a yearslong hiatus, one of Austin's longest-running and most beloved holiday traditions — the 37th Street Lights — is back thanks to neighbors who live on the University of Texas campus-area block.
"It's a very weird little slice of Austin culture," said street resident Robert Foster. "It's Christmas lights done the Austin way."
Foster, who grew up in Austin and fondly remembers marveling at the quirky, irreverent and unique light displays along 37th Street as a child, moved onto the block three years ago and noticed that only a handful of his neighbors were keeping alive the tradition, which originated in the mid-1980s.
Over taco nights and sidewalk chats, the 29-year-old web developer at Austin Community College floated an idea: Let's bring back the lights.
"We have a street where people just for no good reason — for no benefit of their own, just for the hell of it — put up displays involving things that shouldn't be involved in Christmas at all, like aliens and Sock Monkeys," Foster said. "I really love Austin, and I love all the hard work that people have put into creating such a weird and wonderful tradition."
After months of planning and countless hours stringing lights, 37th Street radiated back to life on Saturday night in front of thousands of spectators who crowded the sidewalks eager to see if the widely publicized 37th Street Lights Premier would live up to their expectations. The lights will remain up and on nightly through December.
"It's just a beautiful thing," said Spencer Burton, who sold cookies in front of his Pac-Man-themed 37th-Street house Saturday night. "I just feel very fortunate and very, very blessed (to be part of it)."
He said the community's "absolutely insane" response to the Saturday kickoff event on Facebook, where more than 16,000 people expressed interest in attending, prompted the neighbors to "make it this extra."
Highlights of this year's displays include: a sprawling, house-sized spiderweb; a penguin disco; and a towering T-Rex in front of Foster's home. Saturday's kickoff also featured a roving brass band, Blowcomotion, which encourages adults of any musical ability, including beginners, to learn to play.
"It was super random," said Francoise Van Keuren, board president of Blowcomotion, who contacted the 37th Street organizers to ask if her band could play on Saturday. "(I said), 'Can you handle a giant brass band coming down your street?'"
On Saturday, Blowcomotion played a set of songs for spectators and even taught them lyrics to a song, so they could participate in a sing-along. She said the vibe on 37th Street, which she had never visited before, was unlike anything she'd ever seen.
"I don't think any of us expected the street to be so well lit up and so communal," she said. "Austin is really good about creating this culture that's made from the ground up."
The 37th Street Lights start at the intersection of 37th Street and Guadalupe. Learn more at facebook.com/37thstreetlights.
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