JERRY M. GOWE
With Thanksgiving comes the annual lighting at Temple Square Nov. 29 at 5:30 p.m. This year, however, Church officials are requesting that BYU students not attend the actual lighting ceremony, but wait a week to come and see the festive sight of tens-of-thousands of colorful lights.
Peter Lassig, gardener at Temple Square and supervisor of the Christmas lights this year, said the annual lighting brings more people to Temple Square than any other time of year, and with those people come many public hazards.
“We turn them on about at 5:30 p.m. the Friday after Thanksgiving. There is no time, even during General Conference, when more people come to Temple Square than for the lighting,” Lassig said. “So please don’t come, for your own safety. But please come a week later and you will see quite the sight. This especially applies to children or people in wheelchairs. It’s far too dangerous.”
Lassig also said that around 5 million visitors visit the Christmas lights on Temple Square each year.
“This year the First Presidency has approved the adding of lights in the trees along the administration block,” Lassig said. “From Main Street to State Street, all the trees will have lights for the first time ever.”
Lassig said the crew began stringing Christmas lights on Sept. 7, and will have to hurry to get them all up in time for the lighting. He also said the use of Christmas lights on Temple Square is a special part of Church history.
“In 1963 or 1964 some outside people who had the Church’s interests at heart felt that a dark Temple Square was nowhere near appropriate for an organization that proclaimed to be portrayers of light to the world,” Lassig said. “The editor of the Deseret News at the time and others helped to persuade David O. McKay to light Temple Square for the holiday season.”
Lassig said there was some opposition to the idea of Christmas lights, but ultimately the idea prevailed and the lights were turned on, complete with the spot lights for a nativity scene.
“Today we are the inheritors of that courageous act. We do the lights. After all is said is done, they bring light and joy and brightness in the darkest days of winter and remind us that there is light in the world,” Lassig said. “For the Saints the only light of the world is the light of the Savior and the message he shared. For Latter Day Saints these lights stand for the light of the Gospel and most importantly the light of the Savior Jesus Christ.”
Since then, the lights have been strung inside and outside Temple Square, Lassig said.
“Tens of thousands are used inside and outside. They try to capture the spirit of Christmas for everyone. If you’re looking for something that brings joy and a spontaneous thrill to the heart, that’s what we’re trying to bring,” Lassig said.
Lassig said Thanksgiving Point is one of many commercial spots that probably has more lights than Temple Square.
“We’re not trying to be a commercial point, but we’re trying to stand for what we believe in,” Lassig said. “I don’t think there is anyone who uses lights more effectively than we do.”
He also said that many free concerts are offered at Temple Square to supplement the lights, including performances by The Mormon Tabernacle Choir and the Mormon Youth Chorus.
“Every night there are free programs where people can come and enjoy the spirit of Christmas,” Lassig said. “For me and my family the best part of Christmas is the music and the lights of Temple Square, and we partake of it freely. For us it is a buildup for that great day.”