Brooklyn neighborhood’s Christmas lights shine despite pandemic’s dim

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Every holiday season, a quiet neighborhood in Brooklyn turns into a must-see attraction in New York City.

Houses and yards get draped in strings of light, armies of toy soldiers, angels and reindeer are put out in front lawns. In the nearly three decades since the neighborhood started putting up its elaborate decorations, people from all over the world would travel miles away from Manhattan’s Central Park and Rockefeller Center just to see the Dyker Heights Christmas lights.

The crowds were as much of a spectacle as the Christmas lights itself, but the Covid-19 pandemic has put a stop to that this year. Some families in the neighborhood have decided not to decorate this year.

“You have folks who are not putting up the lights who are some of the heavy-hitters because they’re taking care of their elderly mother and they’re concerned about the people in the neighborhood,” said Tony Muia, owner and operator of A Slice of Brooklyn, a local tour company. Muia canceled all bus tours of Dyker Heights for the holiday season, the first time in 14 years, over concerns of spreading the virus to the neighborhood.

“The last thing I wanted was our bus to be some mobile super-spreader, that was not only infecting people on the buses but maybe infecting people in the neighborhood,” Muia said.

Rumors swirled in the neighborhood that officials were going to tell people not to decorate their homes this year for fears of attracting crowds, but local leaders have largely focused on advocating for more low-key Christmas lights this year.

“Obviously because of the pandemic, something that is this fun, internationally known phenomenon becomes a real concern because of the crowds it can attract,” Justin Brannan, the city council member for Dyker Heights, told a local television station, saying he and the local community boards have asked the New York police department to help ensure any visitors were following Covid-19 guidelines.

That some houses have opted to skip out on their displays this year has not stopped others from going all-out with their displays.

Lucy Spata, who is known to be the person who started the Christmas lights tradition in 1986, said she put her decorations up earlier this year because she was looking to bring some joy to the community as well as honor her late husband, who passed away last year.

“This was our thing to decorate. We enjoyed it, we loved it. He always said to me, ‘Don’t ever stop,’” she said. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something to make everybody happy.”



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