Dyker Heights at Christmas time, it is reasonable to feel that one has seen it all regarding holiday light displays, ornamentation, and animation. On Sunday, however, a friend and native New Yorker asked if I was familiar with "the house" in the Bronx. I was not, and she assured me that it was a must see. If this house was how she represented it, I imagined that an online search with only a vague description would return my query, and it did. That research led to an article describing the various top holiday house decorations in the five boroughs in New York City.
My first stop was the Garabedian house, at 1605 Pelham Parkway North in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx. I was not prepared for what could easily be called outrageous. If you view my video, you will hear a stunned man repeating words/phrases such as outrage and over the top. See my complete photo gallery here.
There were characters that made no sense as far as Christmas is concerned - celebrities, Disney, etc. The whole thing was an unexpected assault on the senses. In 2008, the New York Times did a story on the home. Here are some excerpts:
For those who worship instead at the altar of celebrity, the site displays glittering lifelike versions of their saints as well: Rita Hayworth, Brigitte Bardot, Nicole Kidman, Audrey Hepburn, Vivian Leigh, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Taylor, all exquisitely dressed in gowns fit for the runway, designer handbags on their arms.
The Garabedian house, on Pelham Parkway North in the Baychester neighborhood of the Bronx, is sort of a cross between Madame Tussaud’s and the Vatican, a chockablock vision of the figments of fantasies, many of them moving, all of them sparkling, either with lights or cubic zirconia or other stones — even the harness on a camel on the roof deck is strung with twinkling Swarovsky crystals.
The display, which goes up on Thanksgiving and stays until Jan. 6, inspires an overwhelming sense of wonder. One wonders, for example, why? The extent of the effort is apparent, the imagined Con Ed bill staggering. What would compel a family to devote so much time, money and energy to this particular form of Christmas camp?
The reporter for the Times was able to glean that there was a secret reason for the year-round effort, which has been part of the Garabedian family since 1974:
“Something special happened to the family on Christmas Eve in 1973,” explained Mr. Garabedian, a 44-year-old man with, it must be said, a cherubic air… The Garabedians started decorating the house the following year, and every year grew more ambitious. … This is our way of showing thanks to the Lord for what he did for us,” said Mr. Garabedian, who was 9 when he, his sisters and their parents witnessed this miracle.
However, when asked about specifics of the miracle, Gary Garabedian was vague and unwilling to divulge the family secret:
Could Mr. Garabedian perhaps be more specific about just what this miracle was? He shook his head: No. “The family wants to keep it special for ourselves,” he said.
Perhaps, then, he could be persuaded to illuminate the category of miracle? Was it a financial miracle? Did someone win the lottery or otherwise come into a windfall at a desperate time? “No,” said Mr. Garabedian.
A health miracle? Did someone throw down his crutches and start waltzing around the tree? Mr. Garabedian shook his head.
Perhaps, then, it was less like a magic trick and more like ... a vision? A visitation?
At this last question, a long pause. By then Mr. Garabedian’s sister Linda, a petite woman with flowing red hair, had joined him. “A vision?” she asked, then looked off into space for a moment. “You could say that.”
Mr. Garabedian, apparently the hard-line guardian of the secret, shook his head again. “You could be right, you could be wrong,” he said. All he would allow was that it was a religious miracle. “We’re a very religious family,” he said.
Here is what the Garabedians have to say about the display and its role in their lives in what appears to be the quintessential symbiotic relationship:
For the past 29 years, the Garabedian family—parents Nellie and Eugene and children Linda, Elise and Gary—has provided a family-friendly holiday activity right in their own front yard. Nearly 200 animated figurines dance to upbeat holiday music in a festive celebration of the holidays.
Almost every inch of the Garabedian's house is decorated with Disney characters and chicly-dressed dolls, many in floor-length gowns and most bejeweled and coiffed like Hollywood models.
It was Nellie who originally came up with the idea of giving back to the community by hosting the incredible display, their gift to neighbors for a blessing which none of the Garabedian clan will reveal. Since then, what began rather modestly has gradually expanded, taking on a life of its own.
The Christmas display is truly a family affair. Only one brother, Michael, has married. The remainder of the family lives at home, working for the family fashion design business when they’re not helping Gary with the dolls used in the Christmas spectacular. For decades now, it has been Gary’s job to dress, repair and store each doll each year. Unbeknownst to many, the display is labor-intensive, as the main stage of the ornate production has to be dismantled each night and re-mounted each evening, weather permitting.
"Look, they’re like our children. We’re married to the dolls," Gary joked. "We feel this makes the Bronx have something special to feel good about."
It's Christmas time in New York City. Not to be outdone, it is time for New Yorkers to pull out the big guns. Whether it's Fifth Avenue, Dyker Heights, Bayside, South Slope, or the Bronx, we got the spirit, Don't We? :)
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