Clusters of red Christmas lights dangle from tree limbs, white lights hang high in palm trees, green lights adorn ground areas and hundreds of thousands of lights in blue, purple and gold twinkle and glitter on trees, shrubs, pillars and fences, illuminating the grounds of the Mesa Arizona Temple during the holiday season.
In its 29th year, the lighting event, titled, "Celebrate the Birth of Christ in Lights and Music," is drawing visitors nightly to the temple's garden area and into the visitors center in downtown Mesa.
"It is a gift to the community," said Carolyn McGaughey, a Mesa resident who visited the display with friends Nov. 30. "Everyone enjoys it — of all faiths," she added. "I've come every year for the last 12 years, and I wouldn't miss it."
"It's breathtaking," said Hennie Arnold, a visitor from Reno, Nev., who was spending Thanksgiving weekend with her sister. "I've never seen anything like it."
It is estimated that more than 10,000 volunteer hours go into the lighting display each year, and the event is recognized as one of the largest in Arizona.
In addition to the lights, outdoor figurines and a sound recording tell the story of the birth of Christ. There are nearly life-size replicas of Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem and of the prophet Isaiah, who prophesied of Christ's birth.
"Our hope is that all this will help remind us what the true meaning of Christmas is," said Elder Lee Burke, Mesa Arizona Temple Visitors Center director.
Many who come to the lighting display make their way into the adjacent visitors center where they can view an international collection of cr?hes, a 13-foot replica of the original Christus sculpture, other exhibits and a 10-minute film about the birth of Christ.
"The stories are so plentiful of people who are touched," said Elder Burke, noting that last year the center received more than 4,000 referrals by visitors who wanted to learn more about the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.
"It's a wonderful work to be involved in," he said.
Elder Joseph Carter, a full-time missionary from Utah who is serving in the Mesa Arizona Mission, was one of many missionaries who greeted visitors as they viewed the lights during the opening week of the display. "It's a great tool to talk to people," he said. "One of our goals is to invite them to go into the visitors center; people are usually excited when they find out what is available to them inside."
Sister Natasha Edghill, a missionary from New York, greets those who do go inside. "Many are touched by the Spirit," she said. "The focus of everything is on the Savior."
Also offered and enjoyed are free, 30-minute Christmas concerts presented at 7 o'clock nightly through Dec. 31. The groups performing are selected from all over Arizona, featuring a variety of groups and musical styles.