There is a neighborhood in Washington DC which I nicknamed “The Miracle on A Street NE” in homage to the 20th Century Fox film called “A Miracle on 34th Street.”
We all yearn to be part of those magical towns in the movies—fictional places like Bedford Falls In A Wonderful Life—where neighbors know everybody by name, watch out for each other’s kids, and notice when something is wrong. But the reality is life can be quite anonymous when you live in the city.
The Miracle on 34th Street Christmas movie features a Macy Santa Claus who believes he is the real St. Nicholas.
In this Historic Capitol Hills neighborhood, located on the 600 block of A Street NE, the neighbors believe they are a mail station for the North Pole.
On a blustery day in DC, I discovered Santa’s A Street mailbox. An elegant woman stood talking to a little girl who was preparing to mail her letter to Santa Claus. Her mom stood nearby. The little girl was asking about getting a kitten on Christmas morning.
Catherine said she didn’t know why cats were the big request this holiday but she had to put up a letter from Santa to explain how they were his helpers.
Letters from Children
If the parents gave permission, Catherine displayed their letters to Santa on her fence. She also hung a photo of her cat. I wish now that I had taken more photos of these charming letters.
I adored the letter from “Ginis the Dog.” He wanted a big stick, some cheey toys, one new dog bed, dog car, and dog ice crem (spelling mistakes have not been corrected).
To help the children think beyond their own wishes, there was a note that said “maybe this year, instead of just toys for you . . . you can ask Santa to . . .thank a neighbor, help a friend, do something wonderful for the world.”
In reply, little Lyla Julia wrote Santa: “I hope you have a merry Christmas and I hope I am good. I wish for world peace.”
There were so many letters hanging from her fence that I didn’t think Catherine could find an inch of space to hang another child’s letter to Santa. YET there were still four more days to December 25.
Puppies Love Santa
I adopted my Golden Retriever puppy in June. This was his first Christmas. I couldn’t tell if he was more fascinated by the children he saw at Catherine’s house or the cool letters dangling from her fence. It took a little bit of cajoling to get him to sit still and pose for me in front of the A Street mailbox.
Since Parker was a rambunctious 7-month-old puppy, I couldn’t risk getting too close to the fence. He would definitely try to tear off a letter and eat it even if it put him on Santa’s “Naughty List.”
I couldn’t get this wonderful Christmas miracle out of my mind. So I decided to write a letter to the occupant of this house to ask how the Christmas post box got started. I labeled the letter: Attn: North Pole post box.
On January 2, I received an email from Catherine. “Thank you so much for your kind letter regarding your experience on A Street NE and your enjoyment of the letters to Santa . . . I’m so delighted that we provided a sense of wonderment for young and old this season.”
After reading her email, I learned that what might look like simply neighbors decorating their individual houses was actually a group endeavor.
“My wonderful neighbors have not only embraced each other during these last trying years, but have tried to bring joy and light to others with our various holiday decorations.”Catherine
Coping with COVID
For the last two years, these neighbors living on A Street NE sought to look after each other during the pandemic.
“Our Friday night outside gatherings that started in March 2020 as a ‘check-in’ on neighbors during the lockdown, have also continued every Friday night, including New Year’s Eve this year!” said Catherine.
“Actually it was another neighbor who suggested we do a sidewalk happy hour. We just masked up. It continues on and we are still doing it. We have only missed a few due to weather,” added Michael.
Danica and Michael are the two co-chairs of the A Street neighborhood group. They email neighbors and set up the schedule for the group decorating parties. In fact, the popularity of their December 2020 holiday efforts spurred them to decorate for Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day.
Michael explained: “It’s something we started last year, and at the request of others, kept going through April. We were excited to bring it back this past holiday season in an expanded form, and plan on keeping it going through April again.”
On the last Sunday in January, in wicked cold weather (temps below 25 F) in Washington DC, neighbors gathered to hang Valentine’s Day signs on fences and from trees on the 600 block of A Street NE. The most hilarious decoration is the pink flamingo wearing a red hat. I wonder if this resident is a Floridian?
I went down to explore on Monday afternoon. The heart-shaped messages (You Rock!) (How Sweet) (Cutie Pie) (Soul Mate) hanging from the trees charm me. I created an Instagram reel.
Everywhere I saw red hearts dancing off of tree branches. Cutout Valentine hearts floated on red ribbons. A LOVE sign was propped on the grass near bricks.
It took a little encouragement but I even managed to persuade Parker to pose for a photo in front of the Valentine’s Day card.
Each house is decorated differently. For example, I saw a monster’s head attached to a tree. His white gnarled hands reach out toward pedestrians. But he obviously celebrates Valentine’s Day because he has a red heart above his head.
This Capitol Hill neighborhood is decorated with gusto. Signs sprout on every inch of lawns. Who doesn’t remember the joy of scribbling their name on the little Valentine cards that our moms purchased at the drug store for our elementary school’s Valentine Day party? How eagerly as a child I would tear open each envelope and then laugh at the silly cartoons.
I knew I wanted to hug all these neighbors who were sending out these endearing messages that made anyone walking by their houses smile.
Being a dog owner, my favorite was ”I Chews You” featuring a cherubic dog.
But I think the kiddos will love the “You Have A Pizza My Heart.”
And certainly, every dog walker will chuckle when he or she sees the Happy Valentine Day’s card featuring nine adorable pooches. I even saw a Golden Retriever.
“I woof you.”Pooch
There were numerous red and white striped heart-shaped decorations with different messages including “Kiss Me,” “True Love,” and “Hug Me,” stationed on lawns.
I loved all this old-fashioned holiday fun. This is exactly what we need right now to help get us through these difficult times with the pandemic.
Making a Miracle
I interviewed Catherine, Michael, and Danica via Zoom in January about how the neighborhood’s holiday program began. “It was just last Christmas [2020 when it started],” said Michael. “It just evolved. We started putting up the decorations for Christmas. Danica’s husband kept talking about putting string lights across the street. And Danica and I were like ‘No, no, no. It is too wide. It is too much.’ So we decided to string them between the trees in front of our houses. This kinda grew and we extended it to the other side of the street. Then everybody decorated their yards in their own way.”
It was hilarious to watch them squabble about who did what. Catherine said she was told, not asked, that she would be the postmaster in 2021. But Danica said she was the most obvious choice.
“Our decorations for the holiday have evolved. This year I looked around and I saw Santa’s Post Office. I told Catherine that ‘you are the perfect house for this.’ She wasn’t sold on the idea. But anyway I made her (ok I didn’t make her) and it turned into the most popular thing on the block for the holidays,” explained Danica, laughing.
Certainly, Catherine’s zeal in decorating for the children was obvious. I was blown away by her care in chatting with kids who stopped by her house to mail their letters to Santa.
By the time I visited the neighborhood again on December 28, Santa’s A Street Mailbox was closed. But remember it is only 10+ months until the 2022 Christmas decorations are hung on A Street NE!
My blog is named after my female solo treks. But due to the pandemic, I have not traveled internationally for 25 months. The last places I visited were Venice and Prosecco Hills in Italy and Lisbon and the island of Madeira in Portugal.
During this time, I learned how to take solo treks each day in Washington DC. I traveled near and far, seeking solace in nature. But I also found my neighborhood treks distracted me. I loved to admire the homes in different DC’s neighborhoods—Dupont Circle, Georgetown, U Street, and 16th Street.
Nearly two years ago, a friend told me about a giraffe sculpture on A Street NE in the historic Capitol Hills neighborhood. Curious, I decided to extend my morning walk past my U.S. Capitol circuit. Enroute to the giraffe, I discovered a historic DC neighborhood with row houses and a few apartment buildings. Soon I was walking here regularly.
Fourteen months ago, I recorded this video of the Christmas decorations on A Street NE. The neighborhood’s holiday spirit lightened my heart in what was a fearful time before the vaccinations for Covid were ready for widespread distribution.
I am so grateful for this Miracle on A Street NE. Thank you Catherine, Danica, Michael, and all the wonderful neighbors on A Street NE who made this miracle happen.
Definition of a miracle?
“Extraordinary event, development, or accomplishment that brings very welcome consequences.”
We all can make miracles happen for our neighbors, family, friends … and yes … strangers.
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