It's nearly Christmas, but the holiday spirit in some places has been going strong since late November. Hundreds of residents in Milwaukee string up lights and display decorations in a neighborhood they call "Candy Cane Lane" during the holiday season.

On one brisk evening, Santa, dressed in his signature red and white clothes, peeks his head inside car windows and greets visitors. Dozens of cars snake around the block in West Allis, a suburb of Milwaukee. Trees are wrapped in white and red paper to look like candy canes throughout the neighborhood.

The lights aren't the only attraction. 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.

A Christmas tradition for a cause

Ray Lazarski, is a volunteer Santa and he wears a smile on his face the whole time he interacts with all who've come to see the decorations.

"It's just so much fun," he says. "Especially when the little ones say, 'you are real!'"

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.

There's always a growing long line of cars at Candy Cane Lane's entrance throughout the holidays. Joline Lazarski, who has volunteered for a decade, says that's no surprise. The holiday tradition has been ongoing since 1985 and everyone knows the lights and excitement are just a part of the festivities.

"Childhood cancer research is a really important part because I think everybody knows somebody's life that was touched by cancer," she says. "It's close to home."

Frank Donald has been witness to the generosity and to the crowds. He's lived in the neighborhood for 37 years and his house is one of the most decorated. A projector casts falling snowflakes on the home's façade. Hundreds of LED lights illuminate the prop snowmen on display. And a large painted sign on his lawn reads "Welcome to Candy Cane Lane."

"Everybody seems to love it," he says. "Our sign gets a lot of attention. A lot of people come in the yard and just get pictures taken."

A friendly neighborhood competition

Megan Mas makes a visit to Candy Cane Lane every year. Some of the displays are familiar — with little change from previous years.

"But there's some new lights and it's always fun to see what's the new trend this year and what kind of blow-ups there will be," says Mas.

It might be hard for some to choose a favorite among the swirl of color and twinkling lights. Mike Molloy, 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. Molloy's neighbor set up their lights around Halloween.

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. The place stays lit in the effort to fight childhood cancer through Christmas day.

Copyright 2023 WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee's NPR. To see more, visit WUWM 89.7 FM - Milwaukee's NPR.

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