Dyker Heights Lights 2017
This was my fifth year in a row seeing the over-the-top Christmas lights displays in the Dyker Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn. When I was new to the city, my first boss suggested that I go see the lights, and also recommended that we eat at the classic '60s-era Italian restaurant, Tommaso. A group of friends and I did both, and I loved it so much it became an annual tradition (some years with pizza slices and cannoli when we had less time).
This year was a little bittersweet since my friend Jim moved away, but I was honored to serve as a seasoned guide for three of my friends who had never seen the lights, or this specific part of Brooklyn before. We met on a Saturday so we had time for a leisurely dinner at Tommaso (seriously, our dinner lasted nearly three hours), where the food is delicious and affordable, and they serenade you with opera and Christmas carols while you eat.
The neighborhood first became famous for its elaborate Christmas lights displays about 30 years ago and has only grown since then—the displays now attract 100,000 people a year. If you go on a weekend night close to Christmas, it can feel like all 100,000 people are there in one night, but some of the streets are closed to car traffic, which helps a little with the crowding.
A lot of the houses are actually decorated by companies, and they display signs out front advertising their services. I haven't noticed much change in the displays from year to year, but there's something comforting in seeking out my favorite houses and finding them unchanged. Speaking of the houses, even without the help of decorations it's worth the long subway ride just to marvel at the bizarre, grandiose architecture. Each house is more elaborate and ostentatious than the next, with grand entrances, water features and menageries of stone animals.
I have very specific ideas when it comes to how Christmas decorations should look, and even if nearly all of the Dyker Heights houses break my arbitrary rules, I still love and appreciate the spectacle and joy of it all. If I had my way I'd have a yard full of vintage, weathered, illuminated blow molds, but luckily there are still plenty of those on display each year for me to envy.
Not all of the houses participate—one of my favorites was a ramshackle, completely dark house that just had a few faded and weathered red bows scattered haphazardly around—but the main displays fall between 11th and 13th Avenues from 83rd to 86th streets. Trash cans overflow with coffee and hot chocolate cups, a Mister Softee truck is there no matter how low the temperature drops and if you don't end the night full of Christmas spirit, you weren't in the right place.