Dyker Heights neighbors split over famous Christmas lights display
Not even a pandemic can mess with Christmas in Brooklyn.
Lucy Spata, the longtime doyenne of the famous Dyker Heights holiday lights — which usually draw some 300,000 visitors each year — says she is going even bigger and better for 2020.
“I feel the kids went through enough this year. They can’t see Santa or go to the Thanksgiving parade. I can’t take this away from them,” said Spata, 65, describing her theme this year as march of the wooden soldiers. “We all need a little bit of happiness.”
For Spata, who started decorating in 1986, she’s happy to take credit for the Christmas blitz. “When I moved here this neighborhood was a funeral home. I jazzed it up,” said the veritable Mrs. Claus, whose home boasts 30,000 lights, 80 figures, and 16-foot nutcrackers. This year she added 30 toy soldiers lining the property including two 12-foot soldiers brought in by crane. There’s also a new giant talking Santa.
For Spata, who lost her husband of 49 years, Angelo, in 2019, she is driven by carrying on in his memory.
“His wish was that I never stop decorating,” she said.
She’s not alone. James Bonavita, who lives nearby and is the CEO of B&R Christmas Decorators, said that business is booming across the city. “I got more clients this year,” he said, noting that many are first-timers. He also has a repeat customer who is adding some 10,000 lights to their extravaganza. “People want to celebrate.”
But some neighbors think maybe they shouldn’t.
“We don’t want a lot of people coming around. It gets a little too crazy around here,” said Maria D’Onofrio, who’s been showcasing elaborate holiday displays at her Dyker Heights home for two decades, but is going dark this year. She was already fed up with as many as 10 tour buses a night dropping shoulder-to-shoulder crowds on 11th and 12th avenues between 81st and 86th streets. She refuses to encourage them when virus rates in the city are on the rise.
“It’s dangerous,” said the 62-year-old who cares for her elderly parents. “We’re afraid. There are too many people coming around. It was nice when it was just a neighborhood thing.”
Her sister-in-law, who lives next door, is skipping this year, too. So is Tony Muia, a tour-bus operator who used to run five buses of 56 passengers a night. He considered taking it down to one bus — leaving rows empty and with partitions separating riders — but opted out after hearing from disgusted Brooklynites who accused him of potentially spreading the disease.
“I have friends and family there. I would never forgive myself if something happened because of me and my tours,” said Muia. “I put myself in their shoes: What if I lived there with all these people coming in?”
Even Spata, who has seen couples get engaged on her lawn, admits she is happy to lose some tourists.
“We won’t have the buses, that’s a good thing,” said Spata, who said she will miss the interaction with spectators.
Bonavita, who has designed some of the neighborhood’s most fanciful front-yard scenes over the past 20 years, is hopeful that 2020 might be a reset for the Dyker Heights crowds — which number in the thousands on any given night during the season and have to be herded by police. “They leave a mess and they stay later than they should,” he said.
D’Onofrio, too, sees an upside: She’ll save big on her electric bill. “My husband’s happy.”
Spata said in 2018 that her electric bill runs under $700 per month-long season, adding the LED lights are on timers, so they’re not running constantly.
“People want to [donate to the cost],” she said at the time, “but I won’t accept it.”
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