The history of the Dyker Heights Christmas Lights: An electric holiday tradition illuminates Brooklyn

PODCAST: The history of the Dyker Heights Christmas lighting extravaganza, Brooklyn’s fabulous and flashy celebration of the holiday season.

EPISODE 305 There’s a special kind of magic to Christmas in New York City. From that colossal Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center to the fanciful holiday displays in department store windows.

But in the past three decades, a new holiday tradition has grown in popularity and in a surprising quarter — the quiet residential neighborhood of Dyker Heights in Brooklyn.

Every December many residents of this area of southwestern Brooklyn ornament their homes in a wild and brilliant parade of Christmas lights and decorations. From gigantic animatronic Santas to armies of toy soldiers!

This electrical spectacle draws thousands of tourists this year, attracted to this imaginative mind-blowing display of Christmas spirit.

In this episode, we look at the lights of Dyker Heights from a few angles. First we explore the history of Christmas lighting in New York City and how such displays brought Christmas into the secular public sphere.

Then we look at the history of Dyker Heights, tracing back to one of the first Dutch settlements and a neighborhood which has developed into a stable Italian community.

Finally, we send our researcher and producer Julia Press on an excursion into Dyker Heights to reveal the origin of the Christmas display extravaganza. Featuring an interview with one of the residents who started it all!

LISTEN NOW — CHRISTMAS IN NEW YORK: THE LIGHTS OF DYKER HEIGHTS

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THE TAKEOUT

A bonus after-show podcast for those who support us on Patreon. Greg and Tom (and Julia) continue their conversation about the story of the Dyker Heights Christmas tradition.


A big thank you to Lucy Spata and Tony Muia of A Slice of Brooklyn Bus Tours for allowing us to record at the synagogue. And of course HUGE THANKS to Julia Press for contributing to this show and helping up over the past few months. Please check out her website for more links to her past work.


FURTHER LISTENING: This episode was partially inspired by Greg’s episode of The First podcast on the history of electric Christmas lighting. Makes great companion listening to this one:


The home of the Spatas, photo by Julia Press
It’s like Las Vegas and Christmas — but in Brooklyn! Photo by Julia Press

A few images from the 2017 extravaganza — when a nice layer of snow added to the festive spirit.

Further images from the podcast:

The marvelous rotating Christmas tree of Edward H. Johnson, the first tree with Christmas lights.

Thomas Edison Museum

The nation’s first ‘community Christmas tree’ in Madison Square in New York City. Read more about it here.

Ads from the early years of Dyker Heights development, Courtesy Brownstoner
From April 1909 Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Daily Eagle, October 12, 1896

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