Christmas spirit comes to Midwood

The Brooklyn Paper
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This is what it would look like if Santa moved to Tel Aviv!

Longtime Midwood residents Frances and Williams Burns have been turning their house on E. 17th Street into a stand-in for Saint Nick’s headquarters for almost 50 years — but the couple’s decorated home is now one of just a few in the predominantly Jewish neighborhood where residents are more likely to head to a Chinese restaurant on Dec. 25 than to Midnight Mass.

But that hasn’t stopped (nor should it) the husband and wife team from lighting up the house like it’s nobody’s business — even though other Christmas lovers have either moved on or died.

“We didn’t use to be one of the few on the block [with decorations]” said Frances, who’s lived in the house between Avenue N and Avenue O since she was two years old. “The majority used to have decorations.”

These days, the Burns’s colorful residence is joined by only one other house on the block with Christmas decorations, two of only a few Christmas houses in the increasingly Orthodox Jewish neighborhood.

Frances, 86, and William, 84, spare no detail, decking out both floors of their house with lights, placing glowing Nutcracker dolls in their windows, and planting a blow-up snowman on their lawn — even if they’ve slowed down a bit with age.

“Every year we do a little bit less because every year we get a little bit older!” said Frances, whose son helped the couple string lights on the upper floor of the house when they put up the decorations in the beginning of December.

Of course, the fish-out-of-water house is not lost on Jewish residents, who say they embrace the Christmas decorations.

“Everyone can do what they want here,” said Mayer Fogel, who lives three houses down from the Burns and recalled a time when Jewish residents of the block were upset when one house’s Christmas decorations was destroyed by vandals.

The Burns say they have received endorsements from neighbors.

“My neighbor across the street, who’s Jewish, once told me, ‘to understand how nice the decorations are, you have to come to my side of the street,’” said Frances. “He appreciated it.”

The couple said their decorations will be on display until Jan. 6, known to some Christians as Little Christmas, the Epiphany, or Three Kings Day.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at
Updated 5:28 pm, July 9, 2018
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