‘Twas the night before Christmas,
And all down the way;
A neighborhood lit a path,
For Santa and his sleigh.
Twenty-two years ago, a Christmas Eve tradition began for a group of neighbors living on North Ann Arbor Street in Saline. A glowing display of luminaries, set out by residents, lined both sides of their street and brightened the night. Homeowners hoped they were building a tradition for generations to pass on in their neighborhood.
North Ann Arbor Street residents, Cheryl and Jim Hoeft, have been part of this tradition since the beginning. Cheryl Hoeft explained why they do it.
“We want to create memories in the neighborhood for the children and provide a joint project for our residents to give back to our community of Saline. The luminaries provide unity for the neighborhood and especially the children,” Cheryl said.
Many of the homeowners along North Ann Arbor Street were in on the original tradition.
“There have been a lot of leaders and participants over the years. Participation has varied. We now have a second generation involved. Families who live on the street have grown children continuing the tradition when they come home from college or home for holidays,” Jim said.
The annual tradition begins with the luminary building party. On Sunday, neighbors gathered and spent about an hour assembling the luminaries. Each luminary consists of a 10-hour votive candle - purchased by Hoeft from a church catalog - placed inside a white paper bag (about bakery size). Each also contains a cup of sand lining the bottom for weight. The paper bag is then folded one inch from the top. About 300 luminaries are assembled for display.
Each year, neighbors rotate houses for hosting the building party. They say it is a great part of being in a small town, coming together and doing something special.
About 35 to 40 neighbors participate - 20 to construct the luminaries and 20 to display them on Christmas Eve.
Once the luminaries are assembled and ready for Christmas Eve, neighbors head off to their own events.
“We have incorporated a neighborhood holiday party on the Sunday of construction, and it provides an opportunity to visit the historic homes on our streets. In 22 years, at least 11 homeowners have hosted the get-together or the construction of the luminaries,” Cheryl said.
On Christmas Eve day, neighbors gather the luminaries and start lining the street. It takes about an hour to distribute the luminaries.
Most years, the luminaries extend from Bennett to McKay streets and sometimes further north and south when there are extras. One year they lined Bennett east and west. Another year they went on McKay and another on Russell. One year the luminaries stretched all the way to Brecon Village and into the Memory Center.
Weather can be a challenge. It has obviously varied over the years.
“We have had no snow to 6 inches of snow - where a berm was on the side of the road, and we sat the bags on that. We have had rain that almost blew them out. We stapled the bags shut to protect the candles,” Cheryl said.
At around 4 p.m. on Christmas eve, families leave their homes and light their candles.
“Friends and family know we do it. They enjoy it. Feelings of community unity and goodwill to provide this for others is our purpose, and it provides a definite invitation to drive through Saline,” Cheryl said.
Over the years, the luminaries have been warmly received. There is a noticeable increase in traffic once the luminaries are aglow. People make it a point to come down the road. They take videos and pictures and post them on social media. Residents have had people stop and let them know how much they appreciate what they are doing.
“Many say they always drive down North Ann Arbor on Christmas Eve to witness the candle lights. Others have sent us videos as they drove through the street. Many post on social media as they drive through,” Cheryl said.
The luminaries have different meanings for people.
“Some tell their children it provides the landing lights for Santa,” Cheryl said. “While others interpret it as the light of Jesus’s birth into the world. It symbolically lights the way for Mary and Joseph to light their way to Bethlehem, or it is the light of the Magi.”
This Christmas Eve, be sure to have a Christmas carol playing as you drive along with the wondrous glow of North Ann Arbor Street.
“Being on North Ann Arbor and looking out is always a special moment in time. This simple creation provides a tremendous amount of light and beauty on the street. And as the evening transpires, we watch the candles burn from our 2nd-floor windows,” Cheryl said. “It’s truly amazing.”