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Brooklyn: Christmas lights

Drive around the district of Dyker Heights in southern Brooklyn on a December evening and you’re bound to find traffic congestion on the narrow residential streets. Unlike other jams in New York City, however, there won’t be an angry or frustrated driver in sight.

Brooklyn: Christmas lights
Image: By Jim.henderson (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons

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Instead, the vehicles will be filled with local families (and an increasing number of curious visitors) who come to admire the neighbourhood Christmas decorations, which locals claim are some of the most extravagant in the world.

It all started as a result of a few neighbours’ inability to control one of their own mavericks. In the early 1980s, Lucy Spata decided to put up a few illuminated angels on the lawn of her home at 1152 84th Street. When local parents started driving their children up the street to see Lucy’s lights, the neighbours weren’t impressed with the resulting traffic congestion. But Lucy was unrepentant, telling them to move if they didn’t like it. When the local police refused to get involved, the neighbours decided that if they couldn’t stop her, they’d make their own displays that would out-dazzle Lucy’s.

And so the competition began. Each December, residents within a few blocks of 84th Street would assemble ever larger and more elaborate displays. This year, the Polizzotto family’s house across the road from Lucy’s is perhaps the most outrageously decorated. A 30ft Santa sits at the front of the property, flanked by toy soldiers the height of a house and complete with mechanical horses and a spinning merry-go-round.

Curious visitors come every year to admire the energy-guzzling displays, the likes of which fancy department stores can only dream. Several residents spend upwards of $10,000 (£6,000) each year to set up displays that involve tens of thousands of lights. Many like to meet the people who stop outside their homes to admire their work, often taking the chance to collect a few dollars for their favoured charity. Others dress as Santa Claus as they hand out sweets to local children.

This Christmas Lights arms race has spawned several new businesses in Brooklyn. Several local companies specialise in making mechanical animated display figures (the best-known is one owned by the wonderfully-named Lou Nasti), while landscape gardeners — traditionally quiet towards the end of the year — are now kept busy from autumn onwards, designing and installing Christmas decorations in the gardens (and on the houses) of Brooklyn. One Dyker Heights resident, a fireman, created a display so impressive he was asked to deck out a neighbouring garden. He now takes care of 40 clients each year, which represents a healthy sideline business.

In nearby 71st Street, Rob DeLauro has taken his homemade display to another level, having designed his own computer programme to synchronise his flashing lights with a selection of Christmas tunes. Not content with playing music from a speaker on the lawn, he wanted drivers who pass his home to be able to enjoy his tunes from the comfort of their warm cars. A large sign encourages motorists to tune their radios into Rob’s own radio station and listen to his Christmas medley as the thousands of lights attached to his home flash in time to the music.

Visitors to New York can now enjoy a Christmas Lights Tour with Tony Muia, a Brooklyn native and owner of tour company A Slice of Brooklyn. The three-hour tour, which runs nightly throughout December, takes in some of the most outrageously decorated homes and allows plenty of time to snap photos along the brightly illuminated streets of Dyker Heights.

www.asliceofbrooklyn.com