ALEXANDRIA, VA–In 2020, Holiday Card Lane in Del Ray received unfettered attention. People would cross the river or drive from NOVA just to stroll the sidewalks of E Luray Ave. Several local papers, as well as the established Washington Post wrote about the sight.
For 2021, Holiday Card Lane will make a grand return, with plans that are sure to blow the snow off of last year’s rooftops.
If you do not know the origin story of Holiday Card Lane, let’s recap. Christmas Card Lane is a decades old tradition that started in Kalamazoo, MI. About nine years ago, residents of E Luray Ave brought that tradition to Alexandria. Rebecca VanZoeren, a graphic artist and Michigan native, painted the first holiday card decorations in Alexandria.
“I did three cards to start, for us and two neighbors,” explains VanZoeren. “I hoped it would take off but I had no idea until it hit the other end of the 200 block [of E Luray] how big it could be. People really got into it.”
Last year, Gretchen Steenstra started an email list in her neighborhood to gather supplies and coordinate painting parties in the local alley. This year, the collaborations go far beyond an email list.
“This year Holiday Card Lane has grown probably five times its size,” details Steenstra. What started at two houses on E Luray Ave, has exploded into North and South Del Ray as well as Old Town, Potomac Greens, Holly Street, even Radford, VA, Potomac, MD, and a condominium complex in Ohio.
Thanks to the new Facebook groups Buy Nothing (of Del Ray North, Del Ray South, and Old Town), neighbors have been able to share boards, paints, primers, varnishes, flashlights, and anything you could need to create your holiday masterpiece.
VanZoeren and Steenstra are still two of the main organizers, and they are joined by Arin Keyser and Wendy Moniz (who were also big proponents last year).
“More and more people started chiming in and said they saw the cards last year and loved it, so how could they get involved. A woman and her daughter pulled over and said We’re in. Then they drove to Home Depot, were here until 10pm with a flashlight. One pregnant couple was painting for 10 hours. The husband brought out chair,” describes Keyser. “People get sucked into it, they lose track of time. It is community, and I don’t know what it is about painting, but it just makes you happy.”
Wendy Moniz is an advocate of that notion, painting makes you happy, as she is painting two new cards right in her living room. One features a stunning likeness of The Grinch; another is a snow bunny in a sweater that reads the classic greeting Merry Christmas.
Every time someone finds a new card, Gretchen marks it on an interactive google map she created, and new cards are still being found.
Keyser says, “I clearly know about [the tradition] but even now I’ll be out walking my dog and I feel super excited when I stumble upon a new card.”
Of course the originals will not be forgone. “People volunteer to do cards for other people, and still share cards,” explains VanZoeren. For example, the iconic Fa La La card with holly berries, painted by a woman named Charlene who moved to Florida, is being rehomed to a house on E Alexandria with a huge holly tree in front.
Keyser adds, “Wendy had skiing Santa, which has now moved three times. That is kind of the gateway, to get a card gifted to you, then you make your own, then you make more for others.” Keyser is known for making cards for others, and helping others make their own, as she commissions boards and has turned her garage into a tracing station.
The tradition in Del Ray might have been initiated by adults, but the children have indeed taken to it, this year more so than ever. Steenstra states, “This is pretty much COVID year number 2, and we still want some holiday spirit; we want something to do outside, to do with your family. Something you can do in one day and not be judged on it.”
Just like last year, neighborhood children gather in the alley on E Luray and E Alexandria, painting their own cards or designing together. Keyser’s daughter is painting a card featuring a unicorn with her friend.
The neighborhood children and their pals also have grand ideas that stretch beyond the cards themselves; be prepared for a hot chocolate stand every night, and a potential visit from the President.
“Some of the kids on E Luray have been writing to the White House to get them to come visit to see Holiday Card Lane, and they have organized a hot chocolate stand,” explains Keyser. “Taking a bit of an entrepreneurial angle to this, they are already talking through a schedule, with a different kid in charge every night during a one or two hour window.”
Holiday Card Lane will be officially kicking off on December 5 after the lighting of the Del Ray Christmas Tree in Pat Miller Square. Once the staple tree is aglow, follow the arrows down Mt. Vernon to E Luray, where a new Welcome to Holiday Card Lane sign will greet you on your stroll through E Luray and E Alexandria avenues.
If you wish to see the cards spread throughout all Alexandria, please visit the interactive map. If you wish to see a photo gallery of cards, please read this article on thezebra.org. There are estimated to be over 100 cards in Alexandria.
Holiday Card Lane has increased ten-fold from 2020 to 2021, but the growth won’t stop anytime soon. What we can expect to see next year includes a classic face cut-out card for group photos, as well as a charitable component.
Steenstra explains, “I have one neighbor on the board of a women and children’s non-profit, and we were going to make this a fundraiser. We will call local construction companies to donate their leftover plywood, prime it for us, and set it up in the alleyways. Then you can pay $75 for a primed card and a painting kit, and all the money goes to the women and children foundation.”
Alexandria is known for many things: the waterfront, the history, the small businesses, the food, the families, the pets… Lee Street Halloween, the lights on King Street… and now Holiday Card Lane.
VanZoeren leaves us with this, “It is a simple, happy, different way of expressing yourself, and it would be really nice if Alexandria was known for that.”
CALL FOR DONATIONS
If you would like to donate wood or supplies, please contact any of the emails below.
MAKE YOUR OWN HOLIDAY CARD:
- Form a neighborhood group and share supplies. Look in basements, attics, closets… See whatever leftover materials you might have lying around, dying to be used up.
- Go to Lowe’s and look at reject paint. You can buy a quart of paint for a dollar. This is a low-cost option.
- Set up a painting station. If you live in or near an alley, that works perfectly for social distancing and keeping messes out of houses. If not, plastics tarps are another cheap, easy option to contain any straying creativity.
- Have fun with it! There truly are no rules when it comes to spreading holiday happiness. Paint, sparkle, trace, draw whatever makes you smile.