Dork for New York: Dyker Heights Lights

Yes, the title is rhyme-tastic, but this is appropriate as I just recently returned from…

ANOTHER FREE HOLIDAY ACTIVITY!!! WOO!  (and you know I like free.)

Dyker Heights Lights: It sounds curiously like a prime time television drama, but I assure you, it’s not.  It’s actually a renowned holiday event in Dyker Heights, an affluent Brooklyn nabe, where the residents take their Christmas lights decorating VERY seriously.  In fact, they have developed such a reputation for their extravagance, that you can find NYC residents and tourists alike doing the slow drive by (or walk by) on every night during the holiday season.

I first heard of this ongoing event after Googling “free Christmas things to do in NYC,” where I found a link to an article (this one).  Through this article, I learned that the participating homeowners in this neighborhood take their reputation so seriously that they often hire professional, um… Christmas-lights-decorating-folk in an attempt to outdo their neighbors.  And it shows.

Well, you know me… I see the words “free holiday activity” and I pounce.  Not to mention, the prospect of sharing all of this with you via blog post!  So, with Josh as the pilot, me as the navigator, and our friends Mark and Maria as enthusiastic company in the back seat, we set out on our journey.   As it turns out, Dyker Heights is only 4.5 miles from our home.  (This seems really close, but in NYC context, it’s not as everything is really close in miles, but mostly just accessible by mass transit or foot.)  We rarely drive in the city, but we decided to for this particular occasion and it took us ten minutes to get there.  It would have taken less time, but we weren’t the only ones driving to Dyker Heights to see the lights!

Of course, I got some pics, as did Maria on her iPhone.  Without further ado, here is Dyker Heights Lights in all of its sometimes-classy-sometimes-tacky glory:

Dyker Heights Lights

This display was actually at one of the nearby apartment buildings that we passed on our way to the big show.  However, the majority of the light displays are found at single family residences.  But you know… Christmas lights decorating is contagious, so we found a lot of it going on in the fringes of the neighborhood.

Dyker Heights Lights

The same row of apartment buildings, but this is a view down the street.  Just to show you how far the contagion has spread.

Dyker Heights Lights

More contagion…

Dyker Heights Lights

Aw…. how sweet.  But tame in comparison to its neighbors.  Perhaps this would be deemed the underachiever house.  You’ll see what I mean in a minute.

Dyker Heights Lights

Another tame display.  But lovely all the same.

Dyker Heights Lights

Pretty…  It’s hard to tell from this picture, but so many of these houses, i.e., those things under the high wattage of electricty, are pretty incredible.  Mansion is usually the best descriptor.  Driving in this neighborhood, I would swear I was anywhere but Brooklyn, NY, if not based on the sheer size of the real estate alone.

Dyker Heights Lights

Another pretty one…

Dyker Heights Lights

The big guns.  This was the house.  And as you can see, they did not limit their decor to just lights and wreaths with bows…. oh no.  Also, note the other people who stopped to take pictures — they do not live  in this neighborhood.  Like I said, it’s sort of an area attraction.

Dyker Heights Lights

The house again.  There was a lot going on here, and my camera didn’t capture even half of it.

Dyker Heights Lights

Maria got some things on her iPhone that I’m just now seeing for the first time.

Dyker Heights Lights

The house again.  And there’s the star that the wise men followed on the left (just kidding).  I’m not really sure what a big balloon has to do with Christmas, but I’m no over-achieving Dyker Heights homeowner, so what do I know?

Dyker Heights Lights

They’ve got Santa, they’ve got balloons, they’ve got Jesus, they’ve got gingerbread houses, they’ve got carolers…. They’ve got ALL of their bases covered.

Dyker Heights Lights

At The House they were asking for donations to help serve children with special needs.  I only know this because I just read that sign.  I’m not exactly sure how that worked as we never got out of the car, but I guess it’s good that a noble cause is being served through all of this house’s tackiness decorations.  :)

Dyker Heights Lights

Moving on from the house, we have attained a sense of calm once again.  In most any other neighborhood in the country, this would be “that pretty house with the lights.”  However, here in Dyker Heights, it’s almost yawn-worthy by comparison.

Dyker Heights Lights

Take away the scary Santa, and I’m all about it.  Oh, and in case you’re all “What? He’s not that scary!”  here’s a close-up:

Dyker Heights Lights

See what I mean?  No thanks.

Dyker Heights Lights


Dyker Heights Lights

Less tacky, more lovely.  Not the norm here, but I like it!

Dyker Heights Lights

Hark!  The herald angels sing.

No really, they are (in this picture).  Very elegant!  Especially the English Tudor house behind the decoartions.

Dyker Heights Lights

“Less is more” means nothing to these people.

(And hey, history buffs, I bet you didn’t know that there were Victorian carolers at the birth of Jesus?!)

Dyker Heights Lights

Very nice.

Dyker Heights Lights

Yep, more is more.  And I like it.

Hope you enjoyed that mini tour of Dyker Heights Lights!  For every picture here, there are probably five houses that we didn’t take pictures of, so yeah… pretty crazy.  Crazy awesome that is.

And how many dollars did said awesome adventure cost?  Zero!

Here’s a handy dandy map outlining the Dyker Heights neighborhood to give you an idea of where to find the best displays:

(click on image for a link to this location in Google maps):

However, like I said, the Christmas spirit — along with the need to express it in electrical and blow-up-snowman form — is contagious, so you will see light displays on the outskirts of this nabe as well as within it.

So, if you plan on visiting NYC any time between the day after Thanksgiving and New Year’s, I highly recommend this hour-ish long excursion.  It’s easy to find by car:   11th Avenue to 13th Avenue and 83rd to 86th Street, in Southwest-ish Brooklyn.  You can take transit to get there, but considering that the closest subway station is a mile away (and I’m sure that’s on purpose), I recommend going by car.  But don’t go too  late in the evening, as some homeowners turn their displays off as early as 9:00!

(Because nothing is too much when it comes to decorating a Dyker Heights home for the holidays, but they draw the line at staying up late…)

Other thangs you might like:

Dork for New York: Holiday Windows

Twelve Weeks of Christmas (ongoing series)

Free Donuts


Show-and-Tell: Thrifty Tree Decorating

Well, Josh and I wasted no time!  The day after Thanksgiving, we woke up early, made breakfast (this is an event itself), and decorated the tree.  And… you’re in luck (or maybe not) because I snapped many a photo in hopes of sharing with you!  And… I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t go through each element and item in the process and tell you where I found it or how much I paid for it… so here goes!

In case you didn’t notice, I skipped right over the post that tells how to get the best deal on a live Christmas tree.  This is because (cue sad music) I am allergic to most evergreens, i.e., Christmas trees (cue trumpet mute: “Womp womp wo-o-omp….”).  I know, it sounds sort of pathetic, but in reality I’ve never been able to have a live tree in any home I’ve ever lived in, so I’m not missing anything since I don’t know what I’m missing.

(However, Josh did grow up with live trees, and I know he misses them.  Sorry, Josh.)

So… in lieu of a live tree, I have a lovely little fake one that has stood by me for about four years now, through five different apartments!  Needless to say, because I live in a small apartment, the tree is a small one — about 4 feet tall.  Here it is, pre-fluffed:

Christmas tree out of box


Yeah, not too exciting… yet.  However, after about 10 minutes of “fluffing” as I call it, it looks something like this:

naked christmas tree

A close-up of some of the branches. See? I think it does a respectable job at trying to look real!

I originally bought the tree in October of 2007 at a Goodwill store in Lancaster, PA.  Usually these are about $30-50 in a store, but I paid a mere $8.  I love Goodwill.

Oh, and by the way, I used the table that comes with my Honda CR-V (looks like this), but I think any card table or even a small end table would work fine.  Honda table = free.

To cover the less-than-lovely green Honda table, I took an orange Ikea curtain, draped it over the table, and hid the excess in between the wall and the table (shh… it’s a secret).  The Ikea curtain was originally $19.99 (for two panels), but since it was originally purchased for a previous un-Christmas-tree-related purpose, you know me… I call that free.

Next come the lights — and not a moment too soon, because I really think one of the saddest looking things is an unlit Christmas tree.  For our 4′ tree, we use two strands of 100-ct. white lights.  Both strands were purchased at CVS; they were originally $4.99, but with my (free) CVS rewards card, they were only $1.99 each.  Bam!  Now, this year we’re only using two strands of lights, but the plan for next year is to add another strand (I can hear Teresa Foster’s voice in my head saying “That’s still not enough!”  I know mama, I know).  However, here is the two strand tree, still lovely:

small christmas tree with lights

O Tannenbaum...

Slightly sparklier…

small christmas tree with lights

Tree skirt:  I’m a big fan of tree skirts, but since I usually do the Christmas gift thing early, this means I wrap them pretty early, too.  It’s nothing unusual for me to have all gifts wrapped and under the tree by December 5th.  This means the tree skirt will be hidden for most of the holiday season.  So, instead of actually having a “legit” tree skirt, I wrapped a metallic orange curtain around the base.  This curtain is one of two panels that I got at Goodwill (for my first apartment), originally for $5.

Next come the ornaments!

Here they are in the box after they’ve been unwrapped:

christmas ornaments

Ooh!  Pretty….

About half of these came from Goodwill and Dollar Tree over the years, about 1/4 of them came in a big multi-pack at Hobby Lobby with a 50% off coupon, and the rest were gifts.

You might be scratching your head now, saying “Where are the DIY ornaments?”  Um, yeah… about that…

I don’t have any!  I know, I know… weird for me, right?  It’s not that I don’t like DIY ornaments… I’ve just never tried my hand at them (and honestly, Goodwill has helped me out so much, I haven’t really been lacking in the ornament department).  However, I plan to change that this year!  But more on that in a future post

In the meantime, here is the tree, all blinged out:

orange and green christmas tree


As you can see, I’m not really into the red and green thing;  I prefer ORANGE and green! (And orange has red in it, if you want to get all color-wheel-nerd about it, so that’s close enough, right?)

Lastly, the tree topper!  This particular tree topper…

waterford ice skating tree topper

… came from… you guessed it… Goodwill.  And in case you’re sitting there doubting my thrift store prowess, Check. it. out:

Uh huh.  That’s right.  $6.97.  Even has the price sticker to prove it!  Also, maybe you noticed the brand of the tree topper?  It’s the Marquis line by Waterford.  As in Waterford crystal.  You know, those fancy folks who make the ball that drops in Times Square on New Year’s Eve?  And the chandeliers in Westminster Abbey?  And dozens of sports trophies? Yeah, they’re the big time.

(I even Googled my tree topper, just to see what it may have originally cost.  Here’s a link to an eBay seller’s store where they’re currently selling it for $40.99. I’ve found elsewhere from $35-50.)

And… because these things are important to Josh, I let him put on the tree topper:

Look at that face!?  That’s a happy husband.  And in case you were wondering if he was posed for this picture, the answer is no.  He really is that excited.

Ta da!

Now to the rest of the apartment… because when it comes to Christmas, I like to really toe that line between tacky and chic.  :)

Because I have a small tree, but a serious Goodwill/Dollar Tree/People-give-these-things-to-me problem, I have a surplus of ornaments.  And since the green and orange ornaments are the only ones to make the cut when it comes to decorating the tree (I made up this rule and I’m sticking to it), that leaves many more to… put into bowls!  This is obviously a more festive spin on putting balls into bowls (also one of my favorite, albeit often used, decor things).  Here are a few examples of how I’ve done this:

2 tiered fruit bowl with christmas ornaments

Here’s a close up of the bottom level:

Christmas ornaments in a bowl

I don’t like to arbitrarily place the ornaments in just any combination;  I like to group them by color families, or to coordinate with surrounding decor.  Since the walls in my apartment are blue, but I have a lot of orange and natural-colored accents, I like to acknowledge both the cool and warm colors (this is serious stuff).  Here’s a bowl of warmer toned Christmas ornaments:

bowl of christmas ornaments

Ahhh…. the juxtaposition of the cool and warm :)

Here’s a bird’s eye view:

bowl of christmas balls

Did I ask my camera to make the light in the room look like this? No. Did it do it anyway? Of course.

But wait!  There’s more…


Una mas…

In addition to bowls of balls (ha), I also like to place some of my favorite ornaments in other places, too.  Here’s a bride and groom ornament that my friend, Laura, gave me when I got married.  I’ve placed it next to a small frame that contains Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 (read by our friend, Joanna, at our wedding).

The bride has red hair... like someone else I know :)

Here’s an Eiffel Tower ornament that my friend, Spring gave me when I did the show Madeline’ Christmas (it’s set in Paris).

And lest we decorate for Christmas and forget a garland!  This one (below) was purchased at Dollar Tree, along with the ornaments attached to it.

Smack dab in the middle of the garland is an angel ornament given to me by my friend, Laura.  Let’s pretend it’s the Angel of the Lord.  Okay!

And here’s a wreath (it was a gift from my mother, who knows I’m not really into the red and green Christmas thing):

That’s all I have for now.  In the upcoming weeks, I plan to make a wreath for the front door — I’m thinking a festive version of a sheet music wreath?  A “Things that (P)inspire Me” post very soon!

So… let’s go through the list, just so I can say I told you:

Tree:  Goodwill, $8 (though I know you could find these on Craigslist as well)

Table:  Honda CR-V picnic table, came free with the car

Table cloth: a curtain panel reused from a previous apartment, free

Tree skirt:  a curtain panel reused from a previous apartment (originally from Goodwill), free

Christmas lights: 2 packs of 100 ct. lights from CVS, $1.99 X 2 = $3.98

Non-gift Christmas ornaments: Goodwill, 2 packs were $2.97 each (with about 15-20 ornaments in each pack), so a total of $5.94 for both

I got another pack of four orange class ornaments from Goodwill for $1.97

Orange and green glass ornaments (on the tree): came in a multi-pack for $9.99 from Hobby Lobby (after the 50% off coupon)

Marquis Waterford tree topper:  Goodwill, $6.97

Evergreen garland:  Dollar Tree, $1

Silver glitter ornaments:  Dollar Tree, ten pack, $1

Lime green glitter snowflakes:  Dollar Tree, $1

Jingle bell Wreath:  A gift (Thanks mom!), free

Bride-and-groom, angel, and Eiffel Tower glass ornaments: all gifts, free

Cute and enthusiastic husband:  Priceless  (but also free)

That’s it (so far)…  Hope these pictures and ideas inspired you, and  hopefully you feel encouraged to go check out your local thrift store or dollar store for more ideas and options.

Oh yeah… I almost forgot!  Dog stockings (from Dollar Tree)!!!

And if you’re still looking for inspiration, worry not!  This week is all about Christmas decor ideas, and what better place to turn to than Pinterest?  So I did!