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By Suzanne Russo in New York—
Full confession: While I do love the holiday windows I wrote about last week, the crowds that go along with them put me a little bit on edge (okay, maybe a lot on edge). That said, one can’t help but get swept up in the holiday spirit in New York, and while this New Yorker may not like crowds, she’s certainly no lump of coal. So what’s a holiday-loving, line-avoiding girl to do?
The Other New York Lights
Enter the Brooklyn neighborhood of Dkyer Heights, known this time of year by its second moniker: Dyker Lights. Now, Dyker Heights is a bit of a trek from Manhattan, but it’s well worth the trip. (It is, after all, home to actor Scott Baio.)
But “Charles in Charge” aside, the real draw compelling more than 100,000 people to flock to outer Brooklyn each holiday season is that the folks in this primarily Italian-American neighborhood know how to do it up for Christmas. We’re not talking a string of lights here, a few trees there. We’re talking incredible houses with light displays that outshine the Las Vegas strip.
The Dyker Lights tradition started somewhere around the 1940s and has grown to beyond spectacular. Think tens of thousands of bulbs—on a single house. That’s to say nothing of larger than life Santas and other props, like the pair of 15-foot nutcrackers that serve as only part of Lucy Spata’s extravaganza. Spata, who started putting out a few humble ornaments with her parents 40 years ago, has grown her collection to well beyond “humble” and “few.” And her neighbors have taken up the cause handily.
Get Your Lights On
But how to get out to the far reaches of Brooklyn? Well, Brooklyn native Tony Muia runs a three-and-a-half hour Christmas Lights and Cannoli tour on weekends. But, though it does include a round-trip transfer to and from Manhattan’s Union Square (plus coffee and a cannoli), I still find the $55 price tag to be decidedly un-Cheapo.
That’s why this Cheapo ventured out for some light-viewing of my own. I mapped out a route and tips for all those who may want to follow, sans $55 price tag. Here’s the plan:
You can reach the heart of Dyker Lights via the D train to 18th Avenue. From there, walk south on 18th and turn right on 86th Street, then head down to 13th Avenue. You can also catch the B1 bus at 18th and 86th (toward Bay Ridge) and ride it to 13th.
A second alternative is the X28 bus, which picks up at Union Square (go towards Sea Gate or Bensonhurst) and drops off at 86th Street and 12th Avenue. Both options will take around an hour from the city.
Check HopStop for detailed directs from wherever you are in the city. Your destination will be 86th Street and 13th Avenue.
Go Towards the Light
The Dyker Lights reside in a square formed by 86th Street and 83rd Street, and 11th Avenue and 13th Avenue. The heart of the action is the block of 84th Street between 11th and 12th Avenues.
It’s along this block that you’ll happen upon the Spata house, whose display includes a series of angels, a ferris wheel and a miniature blimp, in addition the to aforementioned giant nutcrackers. On the night I visited there was also a tray with one lone chocolate cannoli, whose delicious friends, we assumed, must have been devoured by earlier visitors. (Get there early!)
Across from the Spata house is, in my opinion, one of the most incredible displays—a veritable toyland, complete with massive toy soldiers, moving merry-go-rounds, reindeer guarding each balcony (also moving, of course) and a two-story Santa. I do not exaggerate: From the lore I’ve read, the mechanized horses here weigh a ton each and the toy soldiers reach 29 feet.
Around this house you’ll start to hear the music in the distance. Follow it over to 12th Avenue, making stops along the way, of course. There you’ll find a giant tinsel Frosty standing guard over a group of “It’s a Small World” children (yes, that’s one of the songs you’ll hear).
And these are just three houses. There are so many more that do it up big, and even the “subdued” homes twinkle up a storm.
Bottom line: If this place can’t get you into the holiday spirit, well, Ebenezer, there’s not much hope for you.
Most houses leave their lights up through January 6, the Feast of the Epiphany. The lights will be lit just about any night of the week, but weekends are obviously the liveliest, and most likely to be graced by special visits from Santa.
And, lest we forget the true spirit of the holidays, many of the houses collect money for various charities, including St. Anthony’s and the American Cancer Society. Don’t forget to bring along a few extra dollars to spread good spirit.
All that light-looking is likely to leave your hungry. At least it left this gal looking for a little warmth and something sweet. Lucky for me, with Italian neighborhoods comes good Italian cooking. Head back out to 86th Street and over to 14th Avenue, and you’ll find a few good options along that stretch.
If it’s a full meal you’re after, pay a visit to the legendary Tommaso’s (1464 86th Street), a neighborhood mainstay marked by cozy furnishings, large walls of wine and big tables of Italian families that put those uncomfortable Olive Garden commercials to shame.
For a lighter bite, head next door to sweet-lovers’ heaven, in the form of Mona Lisa Pastry Shoppe. The display cases here are a rainbow of deliciousness: cookies, cannoli and just about any other Italian sweet you might want. Grab a bunch to go, or have a seat in the adjoining cafe to complement your treat with coffee.