For over 20 years, Candy Cane Lane has been a Milwaukee area tradition and one that my family took part in annually.
Bounded by Oklahoma and Montana Avenues and 92nd to 96th Street, Candy Cane Lane transforms the West Allis neighborhood into a Christmas wonderland beginning on December 1 and ending on December 28.
According to this article, it all started in 1984 when a group of neighbors got together to decorate their homes in honor of a neighborhood child who was diagnosed with cancer. Since then, it has developed into a beloved holiday tradition shared by families and friends from all over the Midwest and has grown into a huge benefit for the MACC Fund (Midwest Athletes Against Childhood Cancer, Inc.).
This year was no different as families flocked to the 15-block area to take in the elaborate Christmas displays adorning many homes on Candy Cane Lane.
In 1985, my family moved to Milwaukee and readily adopted Candy Cane Lane as one of our favorite holiday traditions. Each following year, we’d bundle up after Christmas Eve mass, stop for hot cocoa at the local Super America and snake through the neighborhood. This was my family’s Christmas Eve ritual for years until my parents moved to West Bend and couldn’t make the trip this Christmas. Nevertheless, my sister and I were determined to keep the tradition alive, afterall, it's just not the holidays without a trip down Candy Cane Lane.
Eric, Terry and I piled into one car and made our way from the East Side to West Allis in about 15 minutes. We followed the same routine by stopping at the familiar gas station for warm and sweet beverages, and then merged with carloads of people along Candy Cane Lane's main stretch. Cars were bumper-to-bumper, which was characteristic for that time of night – most visitors set out to admire the lights between 6 p.m. and 10 p.m.
Once we putted along for several minutes, we were stopped by a couple volunteers wearing Santa hats and generously passing out candy and accepting donations for the MACC Fund. Because of their work and the local charity, over the past 22 years Candy Cane Lane has raised $1.2 million to aid in cancer research and treatment for kids, according to the MACC Fund.
Since the event is free, there’s no reason not to donate at least a couple bucks, so we left our contribution with the friendly volunteers and continued on. As we weaved through the neighborhood via Eric’s sedan, other visitors lined the sidewalks donning hats and gloves and stopping in front of some homes to take snapshots.
Several homes were quite festive like the one with the life-size wooden characters from Sponge Bob Square Pants that lined the front yard, or the house with the ginormous green dinosaur pulling a wooden sleigh, complete with a sign proclaiming the area as home to the North Pole. I loved seeing their creativity.
Yet, as we drove through the neighborhood, I noticed that the displays weren’t quite as extravagant as they were when I was a youngster. Ten or even 20 years ago, entire properties from the trees to the bushes, and the archways to the driveways glowed. At that time, each home was equivalent to Clark Griswold’s house in National Lampoon's Christmas Vacation. Nowadays, due to the raised electricity rates most of the neighborhood has begun to conserve energy and save money by stringing less lights and putting the kibosh on elaborate displays.
I can’t imagine their electric bills! This article from 2005 puts it into perspective. I can’t blame residents for cutting back, but it’s still sad – especially because most participants this year only put up a few sets of icicle lights around their rooftop or placed a popular inflatable snowman or Santa or an illuminated deer in their front yard.
Don’t get me wrong, Candy Cane Lane still is a must-see and will, of course, make you feel the magic of Christmas like it did 20-some years ago. I understand that because of high electric bills and the need to conserve, decorations are sparse and residents are hastier when participating. Still, we must keep in mind that in reality, the lights aren’t the point of Candy Cane Lane. Seriously. While complex holiday decorations are special and the unique light displays were exciting to see as a kid, the point is that Candy Cane Lane raises essential money for children with cancer – that’s really the essence of Christmas and what makes this Milwaukee tradition something truly extraordinary.
Candy Cane Lane
Boundaries are Oklahoma and Montana Avenues
From 92nd to 96th Streets
West Allis, WI
6 p.m. until 10 p.m.
December 1 through 28