Known as Christmas Card Lane, this festive tradition began in 1965. One year earlier, a handful of Lauderdale Drive residents had traveled to the nearby town of Zeeland, where they saw a string of lawns decorated with oversized Christmas cards. Charmed, they decided to bring the idea home.
That first year, 30 households made and displayed cards—using 4-by-6 sheets of plywood, opaque projectors, and enamel paint. And while most of the neighbors from those early days have moved on and new families have moved in, the tradition continues. Last year, the usual streams of visitors were greeted by more than 40 holiday cards and an assortment of lights and other decorations.
Carol and Charlie Ply were part of the group that visited Zeeland, and today they’re the only ones from that era who still live on Christmas Card Lane. “It was a wonderful street for our three children to grow up on,” says Carol, a retired nurse. “In the early days,” she recalls, “we would set a date—say, Dec. 12—for everybody to turn the lights on their cards, and then we would meet for a cookie party.”
And while there’s no longer a set date for putting up cards, the cookie party is still going strong.
“We do a Christmas cookie exchange, summer picnic, and other events throughout the year,” says neighbor Crystal Hargreaves, who grew up in a small community just west of Kalamazoo. Crystal’s parents brought her to Christmas Card Lane when she was a child, and her husband, Bob, had visited the Lane for more than 25 years. The pair continued their holiday visits with their own kids and grandchildren.
Then in 2017, while searching to buy a home, Bob and Crystal learned of a house for sale on Lauderdale Drive. They leapt at the opportunity.
“We’re so happy to be part of the tradition now,” Crystal says, noting that, while she and Bob love all holidays, Christmas is their favorite. “We’ve created a new card every year,” she adds. “Some neighbors use the same card every year, and some change it up, but new or old, we are in awe of the fact that so many do this year after year.”
Crystal’s favorite part of living on the Lane is Christmas Eve, when people from throughout the city drive through to see the cards. “It may sound silly,” she says, “but it reaffirms for me the magic of Christmas.”
For Dave Burnham and his wife, Marcy, this is their 20th year on the Lane. Dave says he’d heard of Christmas Card Lane but had never visited.
But since moving here, he’s become a de facto documentarian, photographing each card and sharing them, along with the Lane’s history in news clippings, on a Facebook page he manages.
“In this day and age, when a lot of people don’t know their neighbors, this is a pretty special event. Kalamazoo is very ethnically diverse, and we have a great mix of older and younger folks on the Lane. We snowblow each other’s driveways and generally try to help one another out,” he says.
“Last year we had a storm that felled power lines, and many were four or five days without power. But we let neighbors hook up to our generator and we could hear others doing it, too.” In 2018 Kalamazoo, Michigan made the list of the top ten nicest places in America. Check out the most recent winners here.
More than 50 years after it began, Christmas Card Lane remains a popular holiday destination for Kalamazoo families. “When people ask where you live and you say Lauderdale Drive, or Christmas Card Lane, everybody knows where that is. They say, ‘I went there to see the cards when I was little, and later I took my kids.’” says Carol Ply. “It has made people happy.”