Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

37th Street places unique angle on holiday lights

Courtesy of Robert Foster

Sandwiched between the homes in North Campus stands a paper mache Godzilla, 10-foot-tall Frankenstein and 25 hand-painted cutouts of “The Nightmare Before Christmas characters, each surrounded by a vibrant sea of lights.

37th Street celebrates the holidays a little differently, presenting the longtime Austin tradition of 37th Street Lights, a display of unconventional holiday decor entirely devised and constructed by the street’s residents. Opening night, adjoined by the local brass band Blowcomotion, officially commences at sundown on Dec. 8.

“37th Street demonstrates a non-corporate, outsider take on the holiday decorations, and just a good time to embrace the weird,” 37th Street resident Robert Foster said. “If you’re weird, or if you feel weird from wherever you are, Austin has a spot for you.”

Foster said the tradition originated in the mid-1980s but gradually abated as residents moved away. Upon moving to 37th Street in 2016, Foster decided to help reinvigorate the tradition after seeing the impact the lights have on visitors.

“The next year, I started to meet all the neighbors and was like, ‘I think we could really bring this back,’” Foster said. “We started doing it, and we got a lot of support from the community.”

After seeing an advertisement for the lights last year, Annie You, a  government, sociology and management information systems senior, gathered a group of friends to attend. You said she enjoyed the display being free and close to campus.  

“I think it’s really admirable that they don’t charge and that this is open to anyone that wants to go,” You said. “You see a lot of families, students and community members come out, so that was really cool. I had a great first impression.”

You said her favorite aspects of the display included the uniquely themed houses, retailers selling knick-knacks, and most notably, the band.

“(The band) was so casual but so cool at the same time,” You said. “(They’re) adults that are just trying to have fun. You can see that they’re vibing. It’s so informal, and then you have a crowd of people around them.”

37th Street resident Maddy Braat said the concept nods to the historic marketing slogan, “Keep Austin Weird,” featuring a series of eccentric decor and interactive activities, including a homemade rocket ship, fire spinning and the iconic stuffed animal petting zoo. 

“(The stuffed animal petting zoo) is a part of the now year-round Stuffed Animal Rescue Foundation, where you can bring your childhood stuffed animal for repairs or adopt a stuffed animal,” Braat said. “Every year, there is a different theme. During 2021, the stuffed animals were unionizing against the stars.”

Braat said she appreciates the significance of the 37th Street Lights, sharing how the concept of free, resident-created experiences strengthens the community on a broader level.  

“It’s great that the city does things for us, but it doesn’t have to be that way,” Braat said. “We are creative, and we can do artistic, weird things ourselves, just because.”

The 37th Street Lights are open from Dec. 8 to Jan. 1, 2024, from sunset to 10 p.m. Residents encourage visitors to experience the display on foot.

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