The nationally renowned Dyker Heights Christmas Lights, colloquially known as just “the Dyker Lights,” have returned to the southern Brooklyn neighborhood for the holiday season — and people are already showing up en masse to see the larger-than-life displays.
“The crowd sizes are significantly bigger already, and we are only in the first weekend of the event,” Josephine Beckmann, district manager of Community Board 10, told Brooklyn Paper when asked how this year might stack up against 2020, when not all residents participated and many stayed home due to the pandemic.
The homegrown event started in the 1980s and has grown in popularity over the years, now drawing thousands of annual visitors who come to see some of the most decorated houses in the country, and turning the quiet residential neighborhood into a month-long block party.
“It’s an unpermitted event,” said Beckmann, who explained that since the Dyker Lights don’t require a permit like other city events, the annual affair receives fewer city resources than it should, and often leads to “very, very congested” streets.
Still, hundreds of home — generally within the boundaries of 81st and 86th streets from 11th to 13th avenues — transform the corridors into a real-life Whoville, complete with thousands of neon lights and blow-up characters galore.
The annual light festival took place on a slightly smaller scale last December due to pandemic-related shutdowns and social distancing requirements, which kept away tour buses (which usually come in droves packed with people, causing much of the event’s congestion), and prompted some homeowners to keep their displays in storage for the 2020 holiday season.
Following in the footsteps of homeowners who are once again decking their halls, many of those tour buses have returned for 2021 — as have food and drink vendors who, in previous years, have drawn complaints from residents who say they lead to trash buildup and only further block streets and driveways.
“I was very surprised at how busy it is already,” Beckmann said. “Last year, there were no tour buses. But this year, they are back.”
In 2019, Councilmember Justin Brannan introduced a local law banning vendors, that was enacted shortly after, but vendors quickly found a loophole in the legislation that allowed them to continue slinging food on the thoroughfare if they hired veterans to do their bidding.
“I’m happy to see that the community is coming back during the Christmas holiday. That’s a positive thing for everyone that we’re starting to come back to normal,” said Fran Vella-Marrone, president of the Dyker Heights Civic Association, “but I do have to say I am already getting complaints.”
The majority of those complaints, she said, are about vendors.
“Technically, they’re not supposed to be there, but some of them are finding ways around it,” Vella-Marrone said. “That’s really a problem and sometimes it feels like we’re never going to be able to get control over it.”
The community board’s district manager said the area’s elected officials and city agencies meet each year to prepare for the luminous festivities and lessen the impact on locals — and for many years have decided to confine tour buses to 86th Street and 12th Avenue, forcing passengers to do walking tours of the displays instead.
Additional wastebaskets have also been supplied to corners along 11th and 12th avenues, as well as 86th Street, and CB10 has requested traffic control to try and contain light-seers to the sidewalks.
“I hope we can get a handle on it all next year, I really do,” Vella-Marrone said.
Logistics aside, the local civic leaders agreed that the return of the Dyker Lights has become a bright spot for many as the city continues to recover from COVID.
“A lot of neighbors are happy to see the lights back,” said Beckmann.
And many more are optimistic that this year’s return to normalcy is a sign of even better days to come.
“I’m hoping that the Lights coming back this year is some indication that next year is even more back to normal than we have been,” said Vella-Marrone.