Photos and Reporting by James Galan
Inflation within the last year has caused the prices of food, gas and electricity to rise faster than they have in four decades. Energy expenses in New York City are particularly high, but homeowners in Dyker Heights are ready to spend big during the holiday season.
Residents of the Brooklyn neighborhood are continuing with their over-the-top Christmas light decorations, which transform the area into a winter wonderland. The rows of festively illuminated houses, known as the Dyker Heights Lights by locals, have become a popular holiday destination that draws tourists from around the globe.
Sal Serrapede, a Dyker Heights native, admits that higher energy prices will make the displays more expensive, but is adamant that the show must go on.
“We have got to keep the lights on. It’s just what we do around here,” Serrapede said, as he walked around the neighborhood with friends.
It is believed that more than 100,000 people visit the Dyker Heights Christmas lights each year, making it one of New York City’s most popular holiday attractions.
Hundreds of people walked through the neighborhood one December weekend. Some people stopped to photograph the light-studded trees, while another group waited in line to pose in front of an animatronic Santa Claus.
It was a frantic but festive sight, with children rushing to buy popcorn and hot cocoa from a truck on the corner. Tourists spilled onto the sidewalk and pulled out their phones to take pictures of the homes, some modest in size and others massive, as Christmas music blasted from the speakers of a nearby porch.
Dyker Heights residents’ willingness to continue their decorating tradition is a shining example of the holiday spirit triumphing over economic concerns—even as consumer inflation reached a 40-year high of 9.1 percent this summer, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
An average New York City residential customer using 300 kilowatt hours of electricity per month can expect a bill of around $110, a 16.3 percent increase over last winter’s rate of $95, according to Consolidated Edison.
“Inflation is not impacting at all. It’s not impacting my business, and it’s certainly not impacting the lights,” said Fred Pflantzer, owner and guide of NYSee Tours, which takes tourists to Dyker Heights.
Pflantzer, 72, whose company has over a decade of experience, remained optimistic at the possibility of fewer residents decorating their homes this year.
“We have many more ticket sales than in previous years, we sell out every night,” said Pflantzer.“I would say the area’s about fifty-percent lit up, but in the next few weeks the [Dyker Heights] lights will be at full intensity.”
NYSee Tours is expecting to be busy during the holidays, operating seven days a week and conducting tours from Nov. 25 to Jan. 6. according to the company’s website.
In a recent visit, one group was led by an unaffiliated guide who held a plastic sign and wore a Santa Claus cap. The group gazed at the rows of lights flashing in a pattern, but some posed for photos with an inflatable reindeer that poked out from beneath a pine tree. However, when a flurry of fake snow fell from the overhead balcony, everyone in the group burst out laughing.
Dyker Heights has historically been a working-class Italian-American neighborhood. The extravagant display of Christmas lights and decorations has been a tradition since 1986. According to Pflantzer and other locals, the tradition began with a resident called Lucy Spata, who began decorating her home in remembrance of her mother, adorning her porch with plastic angels. Each year she added to the display.
Other residents caught the decorating bug, and the practice spread throughout the neighborhood. The area between 82nd and 85th Streets and 11th and 13th Avenues is especially popular with tourists, who are paying more to visit the neighborhood’s light show than in previous years.
An internet search for tickets reveals a wide range of prices, with the cheapest being around $20 for a guided walking tour and more luxurious packages offering food and transportation costing hundreds of dollars per adult.
Victoire Fontaine, a 28-year-old French tourist, who last visited in 2019 recalled that bus tour tickets were slightly cheaper back then. She was, however, unfazed about spending more money than in previous years.
“It is very pretty here,” she said, turning to point at a life-size nutcracker soldier standing in the doorway of a home. “It’s almost like something from a movie, like a fairytale.”