It is perhaps the only time and place in New York City that people don’t mind sitting in traffic.
It’s Christmas in Dyker Heights!
The otherwise sleepy neighborhood is once again decking the halls and delighting residents and tourists alike with its over-the-top, make-Disney-World-jealous Christmas displays.
Although local residents get to enjoy their neighbors’ extravaganzas annually — “We do this every year,” says Dyker resident Guisseppe Bonofrio — for others, it may only be a once in a lifetime experience.
“We are visiting from Russia,” says Svetlana Rozestvensky outside a house decorated with inflatable Dr. Seuss characters off 83rd Street and 12th Avenue, “and we heard that we must see this before we go back. We are glad we did.”
While various displays and dioramas are scattered throughout the neighborhood, it is the heart of Dyker — 12th Avenue between 82nd and 85th streets, and 84th Street between 10th and 13th avenues — that is truly winter wonderland.
That’s where Tony Muia, a 43-year-old Brooklyn native, aimed his tour bus this year. Muia, who started the “Slice of Brooklyn Tours” two years ago, recently expanded his offerings from just pizzerias to include the borough’s best Christmas lights.
“We just did our first tour of the Dyker Heights lights last week,” Muia told The Brooklyn Paper. Muia’s 55-seat state-of-the-art tour bus leaves Manhattan’s Union Square at 7 pm on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for a three-and-a-half hour guided tour of the world-famous displays.
The business move was natural for Muia, who remembers his childhood driving around with his family to see the lights.
“If you’re from Brooklyn, you didn’t go to Rockefeller Center, you drove around your neighborhood to see the lights,” says Muia.
Local historians say the tradition dates back to the 1940s.
“I’ve been doing this for 23 years,” says Lucy Spata homeowner and veteran decorator of 1152 84th St. — one of the largest displays in the city, featuring tens of thousands of bulbs, hundreds of decorations, music, and guest appearances by Elmo, Frosty the Snowman, and even Santa Claus.
“We add to the lights every year,” explains Spata, who plugs in the display on Thanksgiving and leaves it up until after the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as “Little Christmas,” on Jan. 6.
Spata recalls meeting visitors from Massachusetts, Arizona, and California over the years. But the displays don’t just bring out people — they bring out the best in people.
For Spata, the decorations are more than just a family tradition — they’re a way to give back to the community.
“It’s worth every penny to put a smile on the kids’ faces,” she told The Brooklyn Paper. Spata has used the venue as a fundraiser for St. Anthony’s charity.
Likewise, the Polizzottos across the street set up a gigantic custom-made “Toyland” diorama, complete with rides, that has raised money for the American Cancer Society.
Although so many houses put up such large displays — which can cost well over $30,000, according to Angel Rivera of Tri Star Amusements — a spirit of friendly competition exists amongst some neighbors.
“Everyone works together to make everyone happy,” says Rivera. “People have the holiday spirit. There might be competition to see who comes out with the nicest house, but it’s ultimately to make kids happy.”
That said, tour guide Muia says Lucy Spata’s display is the best.
“She was the one who took it to a whole new level,” he said.
There are dozens of Dyker Heights houses that get into the Christmas spirit. Here are our favorites:
1. The Spatas (1152 84th St.): Lucy Spata and her late parents started decorating their house with a handful of ornaments 40 years ago, and she has been adding to her collection ever since. In addition to plastic soldiers, angels, and reindeer, the Spatas have upgraded to live Elmos, Frosty the Snowmen, and Santas as well!
2. The Polizzottos (1145 84th St.): The late Alfred Polizzotto had this custom-designed Toyland-themed display commissioned during his initial fight with cancer 20 years ago. Mechanized horses weighing a ton each, 29-foot-tall toy soldiers marching in place, and 10-foot-tall lords a’leaping keep the front porch busy — while a two-story Santa waits at the door to collect the mail.
3. The Rizzutos (1062 84th St.): Life-sized and mechanized, these Victorian-clad animatrons from Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol” claim squatters’ rights outside a Dyker townhouse as they humbly await the Ghost of Christmas Future to convince the owner to let them back in — hopefully sometime after New Years.
4. The Lambrones (8304 12th Ave.): This extremely bright corner house with a 15-foot-tall Frosty the Snowman makes full use of its idyllic landscape to celebrate the season, draping its bushes as a wall of lights. Now, so long as the electric swans that have been placed on the banks of the lawn’s waterfall and artificial stream don’t go swimming, everything should be fine.