You can take the girl out of Kalamazoo, but you can’t take Kalamazoo out of the girl. For proof, head over to the Del Ray section of Alexandria, Va., where Rebecca VanZoeren has spent the past few years re-creating the Christmases of her Michigan youth, one massive wooden Christmas card at a time.

Just take a walk down East Luray Avenue. For a few blocks on East Luray west of Mount Vernon Avenue, more than two dozen houses are decorated not only with lights but also with brightly painted 4-by-6-foot plywood sheets. They stand in front yards, illuminated by spotlights: Nutcrackers, bears in scarves, birds in knit hats, penguins in ice skates, Santa on skis.

Peace and Joy and Fa La La La.

Rebecca, 61, is a painter and graphic artist who was inspired by a memory of her Kalamazoo childhood — being bundled into the family station wagon for a trip to Lauderdale Drive, which in 1965 started transforming itself annually into “Christmas Card Lane.”

“Every Christmas, they put up these giant plywood Christmas cards,” Rebecca said. “They were gorgeous.”

The cards had a mid-century “Mad Men” sort of look. It wasn’t only because it happened to be mid-century, but also because Kalamazoo is a hotbed of that aesthetic style, with offices and homes designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“It would be bumper to bumper sometimes with people going down the street to look at these pretty cards,” Rebecca said.

In 1985, Rebecca moved to Washington when her husband, Tom, took a job on the Hill. In 1993, they moved to Del Ray.

In 2014, Rebecca decided she wanted to transplant a bit of Kalamazoo to her neighborhood. Her two daughters were home from college at the time, so they were able lend a hand.

She painted a pair of birds in a holly tree, perched under the word “Joy,” and a black dog in a winter landscape under the words “Merry Christmas.”

When neighbors saw the macro cards, they clamored for their own. Rebecca painted a few and helped others with their designs. The tradition grew slowly — just five or six in 2014 — and then exploded this year.

“This year they went up early,” Rebecca said. “I mean, people were pulling things out the day after Thanksgiving.”

Neighbors shared paint and other supplies.

“I just think you want to do something with your time,” Julia Eile said one evening this week as she and other masked East Luray Avenue residents gathered in front of Rebecca’s house.

A lot of gathering occurs on this street.

They say you can’t read a book on your front porch, because your neighbors will think it’s an invitation to come over and sit a while and drink some coffee. (Or something stronger. One family hosts a weekly porch bourbon night.)

The holiday season is special — all those cards, all that goodwill — but it sounds as if things are pretty nice on East Luray the rest of the year, too.

As we stood in the chill, the three young Parish sisters whirled up. One of the cards in their front yard has Darth Vader on it.

“What’s so Christmassy about Darth Vader?” I asked.

“He has a Santa hat on,” one sister exclaimed before the trio bounded back up the street.

“It was going to say ‘I’m your Father Christmas,’ ” Tom VanZoeren said.

Del Ray is a patch of deep blue within already blue Northern Virginia. A sign at one end of the block was repainted from “Christmas Card Lane” to the more inclusive “Holiday Card Lane.” A few Biden-Harris signs are still up in yards, along with Black Lives Matter signs. There is a likeness of President Trump in front of one house, but it’s on one of the Christmas cards: a dyspeptic Trump rendered as the diapered New Year’s baby.

This has been a weird year, and it’s ending with a weird holiday season, one that could benefit from extra tidings of comfort and joy.

Rebecca and Tom’s older daughter, Eliza, is part of their pandemic bubble, so they’ll see her at Christmas. But younger daughter Caroline will be staying in Denver, where she lives.

“I desperately want to see her,” Rebecca said. “I also want to keep us all safe.”

Last week, Rebecca was in her front yard touching up one of the cards. A woman came up and said the display reminded her of her hometown.

“It turns out her dad was a science teacher at my middle school,” Rebecca said. “There are a few of us around here, the Kalamazoo people.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

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