Brooklyn's 'Dyker Lights' try to outshine Rockefeller Center

By Edith Honan

NEW YORK (Reuters) - To say the people of Dyker Heights, Brooklyn, get into the Christmas spirit might be the understatement of the holiday season.

The front yard of one house is so packed with trumpeting angels and Santa Clauses that there would be no space if the owner's imagination conjured up anything else.

Across the street, the theme is "Toyland," with a giant mechanical Santa, two carousels and an assortment of figurines done up in Christmas lights.

"The first time I came here, I said, 'Wow, the people here really have the holiday spirit,'" said Hank Orenstein, who was leading a walking tour a few days before Christmas.

"Or a really healthy sense of competition," said Judy Anderson, a college professor who was taking the tour.

Located in southern Brooklyn, 14 miles from Rockefeller Center, Dyker Heights is a quiet, Italian-American enclave of spacious, if sometimes ostentatious, single-family homes.

Around 1986, Lucy Spata filled her front lawn with a dazzling, over-the-top display of Christmas lights. At first, the neighbors complained. Eventually, they joined in.

These days, the neighborhood calls itself Dyker Lights and welcomes several thousand visitors arriving on tour buses from Manhattan. Many residents even employ professional Christmas decorators to set up their displays and keep the lights in storage during the 11-month off-season.

"It's getting more spectacular every year," said Michael Amalfitano, 55, who grew up in the neighborhood and still lives on the street that plays host to the most extravagant displays. "I don't know of any other neighborhood that does it like this."

Tony Muia hails from Bensonhurst, Brooklyn's Little Italy, and remembers riding around the borough as a kid to see the Christmas displays on the front lawns of other Brooklynites. His tour company, A Slice of Brooklyn, now offers about three tours every night of December to Dyker heights for "Lights and Cannoli."

"When you come to Dyker Heights, what you see is a community getting together and really going all out," said Muia. The company's catch phrase is "Rockefeller Center? Fuhgettaboudit!" a reference to the Manhattan landmark that each year features a towering Christmas tree.

Two days before Christmas, a tour group included visitors from Australia, Italy and Brazil, as well as Indiana and Wisconsin, and they lit up with "Oooohs" and "Aaahs" as they passed a cluster of trees illuminated with white lights and a house where the facade and shrubbery were bathed in blue.

"We're Christmas fans. We just love Christmas," said Tony Wakefield, a BMW salesman visiting from Sydney.

Strolling past a giant Santa Claus with his wife and child, Fritz Ewing, a New Yorker who works in the art industry, marveled at the audaciousness of the displays.

"It's over-the-top, but in a good way," said Ewing. "It's frivolous - but not in a bad way. And excessive. I don't think you'd see this anywhere else."

(Reporting By Edith Honan; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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