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Monday, December 25, 2023

Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights, a Tradition From the 70's

  Rajesh Kumar Rana       Monday, December 25, 2023

Dyker Heights Christmas lights
Dyker Heights Christmas lights
image source: Flickr/ Richie S 

Every self-respecting New Yorker knows of the December pilgrimage of admiring the lights of Dyker Heights. This upscale district of more than 42,000 souls in normal times, becomes the Mecca for all lovers of the magic of Christmas. To better understand its transformation, Travelerlifes went to meet its inhabitants one evening in November. 🔗Dyker Heights Christmas Lights - 2022

Christmas decorations in Dyker Heights

The alleys are quiet in this remote Brooklyn neighborhood, where opulent houses face each other in a knife-cut grid. Employees of decor installation companies are busy like little elves. Perched on ladders, or balconies, they set up a scene that will attract thousands of tourists. The biggest decorations are installed, there is still space in the street to park. Not for long… We went to meet one of its inhabitants Joe Scanio in order to understand this little neighborhood of irreducible Brooklynites.

Joe is a bit of New York history. 5th generation of Italian immigrants with the American Dream as a backdrop. A pizzaiolo grandfather, a father in real estate, then an actor. Joe tells us his stories about his neighborhood. New York: How long have you lived in Dyker Heights?

Joe Scanio : For 50 years! This neighborhood is a community. I'm a bit of a fanatic. The classic pattern, however, is to end up in Florida.

In Florida ?

Yes. Often people are born in Dyker, then leave for Staten Island, then New Jersey before ending their days in Florida and ending up in a retirement home. The rise in real estate prices has had something to do with it for several decades.

Has this tradition of decorating your house as the holidays approach always existed?

I would say that it started at the end of the 1970s. Originally the spirit of the families in the neighborhood was really to please the inhabitants and the children of the neighborhood. For example, I had a whole installation on the theme of Disney Small World. I installed everything myself! It was a monster job. Today some of my neighbors pay several thousand dollars to install and store all these decorations. I have personally decided to stop decorating my house. At the time, I had an urn to collect donations. One Christmas Eve, while I was at night mass, this box was stolen. I was disgusted!

Is there a competition between decorated houses?

There is no formal competition. Afterwards I think the inhabitants with the biggest decorated houses want to attract attention. When you spend more than $10,000 between installation, electricity and storage, there is often a lot of ego involved. Some continue to keep the original spirit, which is to please children. What has changed is that today we have people coming from all over the world to see the illuminations. Americans, Italians, Russians and… French people!

Precisely what is the perception of the inhabitants because of this massive influx of several hundred thousand tourists?

There is everything. My view is that this period lasts only 30 days. Residents should consider themselves happy to live in nice, comfortable houses. All of its illuminations are meant to represent the spirit of Christmas. The heart of this tradition revolves around sharing, family and conviviality.

Some residents have complained of nuisance…

Fifty years ago people had only one car. Now some families have three cars… so yes the parking lot becomes more complicated, but good for a month it's not the end of the world either. The problem, in my opinion, is the sellers who settle in their vans (popcorn, etc…). The sidewalks are then littered with rubbish left by disrespectful visitors. But this year street vendors will no longer be allowed.

Do you think your neighborhood has changed a lot in recent years?

Dyker Heights has always been very Italian and retains a traditional community feel. People know each other well. The neighborhood has become much safer. So much so that the Police slows down during the year, surveillance level. Which I think encourages potential car robbers. 40 years ago, no one dared to rob a car, because some mobsters lived here. And it was better not to rub it...

The last question, how do you celebrate Christmas?

On the evening of the 24th, we eat the meal of the 7 fish and we go to midnight mass. The real Italian tradition, right?

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Thanks for reading Christmas Lights in Dyker Heights, a Tradition From the 70's

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