• Benji Sills

Dyker Heights Christmas Lights

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

Manhattan is famous for its overwhelming midtown lights displays - department stores duke it out via their festive windows and grand attractions like the Rockefeller Tree draw thousands. However these famous winter landmarks pail in comparison to the relatively unknown neighborhood of Dyker Heights, which is Paige and my personal favorite holiday haven. We’ve been two years in a row and will likely drag everyone we know there over future years as well, so this post here will largely be an account of our first visit with any updates noted.

We all stood scattered around the D-train: my childhood friend Matthew and his girlfriend Laura, our buddy Andrew from High School, Paige and myself. We had a plan for grand festivities ahead - an evening filled with lights and ice skating, but we’d decided to start off by exploring the Dyker Heights area. As the subway careened into Brooklyn’s 71st Street stop, all of our faces began to fall slightly. Laura, who already had serious doubts that Dyker Heights would offer anything beyond a long commute, asked dubiously “is this it?” She raised a fair question, the area surrounding the train was strikingly familiar Brooklyn: low-slung brick buildings fronted with crusty awnings reading “99¢ Store” and “Pizza”. Nowhere to be seen were the grandiose buildings or eccentric displays that Dyker Heights had promised. There was one building across the street that had a simple string of weak bulbs hanging along a railing. “Well, I guess we’ve seen it. I guess we’ve seen the Dyker Height” I proclaimed.

We decided to walk further along. The instructions online said that the bulk of the displays were along 11th to 13th Avenues between 83rd to 86th Streets, which was still about a 15 minute walk away. The first few blocks seemed to yield no real difference - standard Brooklyn brownstones with the occasional fenced-in garbage bin were as remarkable as it got. Around 14th Avenue however, the small brownstones were giving away to slightly larger single family homes with front gardens large enough to plop a deck chair, so long as you weren’t hoping to put the seat back down.

But then, things took a sudden dramatic turn as we approached 13th Avenue. We began to spot waves of distant lights and without further adieu, we crossed 13th Avenue and were almost immediately immersed in the maddest spectacle we have ever attended. Even stripped of lights, the area would still be impressive - surely stocked with some of the most majestic houses in New York, these blocks are brimming with sweeping multi-tiered front lawns, intricate wrought-iron gates and turreted roofs supported on thick Grecian pillars. But of course, it is not the impressive mansions or the tangible air of wealth surrounding this hillside community that draws the crowds.

Immediately after crossing 13th Avenue we saw a dazzling mansion, it’s expansive front lawn covered in inflatable characters. These recognizable figures jostle for space across the yard, looking like a wobbly Times Square character mob. Bobbing impressively behind them are the flagships of this particular display, several gargantuan holiday blobs are inflated on the house’s second tier balcony and they float there cheerfully like a collection of Thanksgiving Day floats on strike.

The displays are too numerous to recall, but there are several personal favorites worth describing. One house featured dozens of life-sized nutcrackers glowing warmly with their own light. They stand along a grand staircase, looking out with their faces set staring blankly outwards (perhaps stunned after seeing their own electricity bill). Another house is dripping with such an indescribable number of lights that we thought it was surely on fire - bright red lights encircling the yard’s trees high over our heads. Some houses take the spectacle even further with details including a madly waving animatronic Santa Claus, a house that spews fake snow out over the lawn and even a yard dotted with two working carousels. Perhaps our favorite display was one massive corner mansion that takes a different tone, dousing the house and yard with lights of only a cool blue hue. At least it was our favorite until we tried to take a photograph near their lawn and I was attacked by a large slug, which we decided must have been hired to run security for the neighborhood.

Most of the displays this year are largely the same, although new additions include an irritated man yelling at bystanders to “take ONE picture and move along!” They also seem to have grown wiser about some of last year's displays as well. Last year, many lawns were occupied by the same large teddy bear which was unfortunately covered in actual fuzz. It might have looked cute at first, but we visited the day after it had rained and these bears were all bedraggled and mangy, looking as if they may decide to strike at any moment. The bears were notably absent this year.

I could go on forever recounting the many details of the area, but it’s hard to capture the essence without seeing it for yourself. It’s certainly a hike from Manhattan and can take over an hour to reach the area from midtown, but for the holidays in New York it remains unrivaled.

Dyker Heights is easily accessible by train from Manhattan: take the D Train down to Brooklyn and get off at the 71st Street Station. From there it’s a quick 15 minute walk to the bulk of the lights display which can be found from 11th to 13th Avenues, between 83rd to 86th Streets. Most lights are between these blocks, although a couple of extravagant outliers can also be found around town (including one house on 14th Avenue between 71st and 72nd Streets with a miniature village set up in a window case that spans the front lawn). Catch it quick though, the lights will all begin to come down after New Years Eve!

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