Christmas lights dazzle Temple Square

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Christmas lights cover flower beds, trees and walkways at Temple Square in Salt Lake City. The annual light display runs from the day after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Eve. (Mormon Newsroom)

The Christmas lights at Temple Square returned at dusk on Friday, drawing crowds, young and old alike, to see the annual display.

The light tradition began in the 1960s with a small light display near the Tabernacle when then-LDS Church President David O. McKay and his wife decided decorations at Temple Square would be an ideal way to tell the world that Latter-day Saints celebrate the birth of Christ.

Apart from lights, various nativity scenes can also be found throughout Temple Square. The year 2008 brought the addition of Joseph, Mary and baby Jesus figures floating in the Main Street reflecting pool. According to Mormon Newsroom, “Having the Christ child as the focal point in the reflecting pool invites viewers to place Jesus Christ at the center of their lives.”

Ben Ferry, a junior from Corinne, Utah, studying business management and environmental science, said his favorite part about the lights at Temple Square is “the Christmas spirit which it provides.” Ferry makes the trip to Salt Lake each year to see the lights. “The lights give me a feeling of fulfillment, knowing that I’ve been blessed with all the necessary things in life: Christ, family, the gospel and friends,” he said.

Olivia Kimberley, a senior from London, England, studying English, had never been to Temple Square when she saw the lights for the first time in 2011. “It was magical,” she said. “I loved the lights; they are so meticulous in their placement. Combined with the amount of lights, it’s mind blowing.”

Some BYU students don’t just get to see the lights but have the opportunity to help Temple Square’s gardening team “wrap” the trees in preparation for the holiday season.

“It’s cool to work in an environment like Temple Square,” said Zane VanWagoner, a sophomore from Centerville, Utah, studying manufacturing engineering technology. VanWagoner worked at Temple Square before and after his mission, hanging “thousands and thousands” of lights.

According to VanWagoner, the gardening crew starts wrapping trees as early as August, and as soon as the Christmas season is over, the lights are unwrapped. Each process takes three to four months, and approximately 40 people work on the crew. Temple Square is divided into sections, and a group of six or seven work on each section. Each tree branch in the section is carefully wrapped, starting from top to bottom.

“Wrap every single branch, as long as it’s bigger than your finger,” said VanWagoner. “That’s what I did. It’s very, very time consuming. It makes you appreciate them a lot more.”

The lights switch on at dusk nightly and run until 10 p.m. on Temple Square. The light display ends on New Year’s Eve.

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