This year was scheduled to be the fourth that the dragons would uneventfully grace the yard of her home in Mandeville, La. for Christmas.
But then an anonymous letter came in the mail.
“YOUR DRAGON DISPLAY IS ONLY MARGINALLY ACCEPTABLE AT HALLOWEEN,” it said. “IT IS TOTALLY INAPPROPRIATE AT CHRISTMAS. IT MAKES YOUR NEIGHBORS WONDER IF YOU ARE INVOLVED IN A DEMONIC CULT.”
“PLEASE CONSIDER REMOVING THE DRAGONS. MAY GOD BLESS YOU AND HELP YOU TO KNOW THE TRUE MEANING OF CHRISTMAS.”
Rowland did what any normal person would do in 2018: She posted the angry letter on social media.
“Our dragon holiday display got fan mail!” she wrote on Twitter, posting a photo of both the letter, and, it must be acknowledged, the dragons somewhat demonically lit up at night.
But in regards to the question of what to do about the dragons, she wavered for a moment.
Had Rowland chosen to take the dragons down, her actions surely could have been explained by what is commonly referred to as the “holiday spirit,” the idea that people somehow become better versions of themselves during the last week of December.
But perhaps the holiday is misunderstood, or worse, misconstrued, by the writers of television advertisements and holiday cards. For in truth, there are thousands of experiences like Rowland’s out there for every Christmas miracle.
So Rowland decided to go another route, which she again announced on Twitter, a response she said to the “judgy-mcjudgyface neighbor” who had written her.
“I have added more dragons,” she wrote.
The story of Rowland’s decision — admirable defiance to some, pettiness to others — has apparently struck a nerve.
The tweet was viewed millions of times, retweeted and commented on until it drew headlines as far away as countries like Germany, France, and Mexico. It made a roundup of news on The Wild Hunt, which bills itself as a website about “modern pagan news & commentary.”
Perhaps it is the perfect holiday fable for 2018, a year wracked by bitter infighting and an increasingly intractable political divide. Social media companies are selling our data; the robots are coming for our jobs; and our elected representatives have begun to treat each other like family members wrestling over a will.
So in the absence of large victories, perhaps America is learning to enjoy the little ones. And amid this gloomy tableau, Rowland is a hero for our times. Happiness in 2018 is being left alone and not accused of being an occult worshiper.
“Apparently this resonates with a lot of people, having a weird, judgy neighbor,” Rowland said in a phone interview with The Washington Post. “Everyone has that story of the crazy neighbor or the pushy neighbor, the one who sends passive-aggressive notes about where you should put your garbage. And yes, now I have stood up to that person.”
Offers to buy more dragons have flooded in to Rowland, as if she were fundraising for a social cause.
Rowland said she only considered taking down the dragons for a “nanosecond.” The dealbreaker was the complainer’s choice to be anonymous. She said she lives in a neighborhood where people usually talk to each other in person when they have an issue. Plus, the neighborhood is littered with yards full of minions and Yodas and all sorts of strange Christmas decorations hardly different than dragons.
“I’m not going to give in to someone sending an anonymous letter like that,” she said. “If that person had come to me in person, I would have worked with them, but there’s nothing I can really do when it’s an anonymous letter.”
She says she doesn’t plan to add anything else to her yard.
“There’s a fine line between standing up to a jerky neighbor and becoming a jerky neighbor,” she said. “I think five dragons are enough.”
Rowland, who worked for seven years as a police officer in a parish outside New Orleans and then as a morgue assistant in a coroner’s office, has two series that she is focusing on in her writing career. One is about a zombie who works in a morgue — for food. Another is about a homicide detective who summons supernatural creatures to help her solve cases.
Still, she says, she is not going to try to crack this case, though rumors abound in her gated community about who might be responsible.
She says she is not a demon worshiper but admits that a small “snowfield” that is a part of the display looked a bit like a pentagram in photos before she rearranged it.
She and her husband have sent their 14-year-old daughter to Catholic school; they don’t regularly attend church, but they strive to be good people. The holidays, to her, are supposed to be joyful.
“That’s what Christmas is supposed to be all about,” she said. “Things that bring you joy. People have been driving by saying ‘I love your dragons.’ It’s joyful for us and people in the neighborhood who come by.”
Correction: The anonymous letter sent to Rowland said “PLEASE CONSIDER REMOVING THE DRAGONS," not “PLEASE CONTINUE REMOVING THE DRAGONS.” The article has been updated.