Christmas spirit burns bright despite rain

Some 200,000 festive lights adorn trees, grounds of temple

Despite rain the first 16 days in December, the Christmas spirit at the Oakland (Calif.) Temple Visitors Center has not been dampened.

Warming the hearts of thousands of people visiting Temple Hill this holiday season are "Messiah" performances, musical programs, firesides and myriad festive lights.Elder Norvel "Bud" Alexander, public affairs representative for the Oakland Temple Visitors Center, said: "We're observing an interesting ripple effect. We find more and more that people from the general public and members of the Church bring their friends to Temple Hill to enjoy not only the lights, but also the visitors center and the programs. Then those friends come back and bring their friends."

"We really are opening the doors," he added. "Probably more than 50 percent of our Christmas programs are not LDS-related. We have a lot of community and interfaith involvement."

The holiday season officially began on Temple Hill - which includes the temple, a visitors center and interstake center - with a Christmas lighting ceremony Dec. 3. Held this year in the interstake center because of the rain, the ceremony included a Christmas message by Don Hull, community/interfaith relations specialist of the San Francisco Bay Area Public Affairs Council. Afterward, Oakland Mayor Elihu M. Harris offered brief remarks and then led the some 2,000 people who attended to the temple grounds. There, during a brief break in the rain, he flipped the switch for the lights.

This year, about 200,000 white, green, blue, pink, and amber lights adorn trees and shrubs. The leaves of eight palm trees are decorated with festive lights. A large star of David with some 1,000 white lights hangs on the outside of the interstake center.

Also part of the Christmas adornment is a life-size Nativity, with figures depicting the Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph on a bridge over a water fountain. Spread out over the adjacent grounds are figures of shepherds, wise men and animals.

Among the array of Christmas programs and entertainment this year was a fireside at the interstake center Dec. 4. Speakers were quarterback Steve Young, center Bart Oates and backfield coach Tom Holmoe, who are all LDS. All are with the NFL San Francisco 49ers.

Elder Alexander said about 4,800 attended the fireside, with about 1,800 being non-LDS. Many had come early and thus listened to the First Presidency Christmas Devotional, telecast by satellite from Salt Lake City the same evening.

"The fireside was inspirational," Elder Alexander said. "The speakers spoke about the birth of the Savior and bore their testimonies."

Many musical programs have been offered during this Christmas season on Temple Hill, including performances of the "Messiah" by the 300-voice Temple Hill Interfaith Choir. On each night of the performance, Dec. 9-11, more than 1,000 people attended.

Elder Alexander told the Church News that because of the yearly Christmas presentations on Temple Hill, members are being included in more community events.

"We're simply trying to build bridges of friendship with no strings attached," Elder Alexander added.

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