On the day after Thanksgiving, the neighborhood of Dyker Heights undergoes a transformation, as residents along several blocks in the area festoon their homes with elaborate holiday decorations. And we're not talking about a Christmas tree or a simple nativity scene: Among the kitschy pieces you might see are life-size reindeer, huge inflatable Santas and snowmen, Christmas carols blaring from loudspeakers and tens of thousands of lights. Before you join the curious onlookers who trek to the neighborhood—as many as 100,000 people reportedly see the lights every year—find out what goes into creating the displays.
Owner, Mechanical Displays Inc. (mechanicaldisplays.com), which builds and installs the decorations at the Polizzotto's house (1145 84th St between Eleventh and Twelfth Aves, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn)
What goes into the process of creating the Polizzotto's house?
We refurbished it, but we didn't do anything new. I've been working for that house now for 26 years, decorating. And the owner of the house passed away a few years ago. So his wife, because of tradition and the love that he had for the Christmas display, has maintained it; she hasn't changed it. So it is what it is, but it's very elaborate. It takes us three days to install it.
Could you describe the setup?
It's basically Toyland, that was the theme. Santa's 18 feet tall; he's got a 16-foot arm span, and he sings and he talks. He's all animated. There are two 18-foot-tall solders against the house. There are two life-size horses with huge animated toy soldiers riding them, rearing up and down, and two merry-go-rounds with horses and little figures on top. And then up on the second level there are reindeer that overlook the yard. So it's really very elaborate. It pulls over 100 amps of power.
How much does that add up to over the course of the season?
Oh, it's hard to say. Only because I don't know when she turns it on, when she turns it off. But you're probably talking a few thousand dollars in electric for the season, at least.
Where do you keep all that stuff in the off-season?
It's at my factory here in Brooklyn. I have about a 20,000-square-foot factory, and I have about 30 major displays that I store here for people throughout the year, and then during the year we clean, refurbish, and repair and change lights. Then at this time of the year it's all ready.
Is that the only thing you've made in Dyker Heights?
Oh, no. I've done work for many homes in the neighborhood, directly for them, and I've also done a lot of animation for houses. In other words, some [professional decorators] will come in and they want to decorate, so they'll buy my stuff and they'll go and sell it and put it up. Even though it's mine, I don't install it, and a lot of times the client won't even know it's mine. You can't do everything, so you share it. It's impossible—everybody wants it the same day, it doesn't work. You'd need a staff of 10,000 and they still wouldn't get it done.
How did you get into doing these holiday displays?
I've been in the Christmas business all my life. I started this company in 1969. I built a robot when I was 19 and I was on the front page of the Times, and my life changed after that. I realized that I had a talent for building, display and animation, and I went into business on February 8, 1969. You know, I started a small operation on Flatbush Avenue and it grew, and 41 years later, I'm still having fun doing it. I haven't gone to work a day in my life. I live two-and-a-half miles from my factory, I'm here at five in the morning and I stay at least till six o'clock, seven days a week. It's demanding work.
Homeowner (8304 Twelfth Ave between 83rd and 84th Sts, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn)
Can you describe your display?
We have a lot going on. We have a nativity. We have people from all over the world. We have Santa and his reindeer, lots of lights. We are going to have a live Santa on the weekend. A Christmas tree—a very big Christmas tree. A snowman, which everybody seems to like. And I guess that's about it.
Who's your Santa?
Who's going to be my Santa? Probably my brother.
Did he volunteer for it, or did you rope him into it?
I talked him into it. I usually hire somebody and pay them, but he's in from Florida. And he said he would do it for me.
How did you get started with decorating your house?
It had to be eight or nine years ago. But I did it in my other house also. So up here, eight years ago. But the whole neighborhood does decorations really nice. You can't even drive your car around the neighborhood [without seeing the lights]. They really enjoy the Christmas season up here, so everyone's house is really pretty.
Owner, operator and founder, The Christmas Lights & Cannoli Tour (asliceofbrooklyn.com/christmas.html)
How did you get started with the Christmas Lights & Cannoli Tour?
It just made sense to me that people from around the country who don't know Brooklyn but who love Christmas decorations would maybe be interested in it. Sure enough it turned out to be a hit. There's 100,000 people that come out to the area every year, and I couldn't be happier being the only tour company in Brooklyn that's been doing this for the past four years. But for me, it goes beyond that: I grew up with these people, I know them. For me, it's rewarding that I can help these people and get their stories out as well.
What's the best area to check out?
84th Street and 83rd Street between Eleventh and Twelfth [Avenues].
What's the most common reaction to the some of the more elaborate homes?
[People are] just blown away by it all. For people who love Christmas decorations, it's right up their alley. I stand back and watch people sometimes, and everybody becomes a kid again. How can you not when you're standing in front of a 14-foot-tall Santa, or 30-foot wooden soldiers? Ultimately, Christmas always brings us back to our childhood. I'll get people who know the area that now come with their kids as well. It's just really amazing to see the reactions.
Do you decorate your house at all?
No, I don't.
You leave it to the professionals?
Yeah, I like that line.
WHERE TO SEE THE LIGHTS: 80th to 85th Sts between Tenth and Fourteenth Aves, Dyker Heights, Brooklyn; the biggest concentration of lights is on 83rd and 84th Sts between Tenth and Twelfth Aves. Tony Muia's : Meet at Fourth Ave between 13th and 14th Sts (asliceofbrooklyn.com/christmas.html).