Before sunset under a clear blue, warm Arizona sky, the Mesa temple Christmas lights were turned on throughout the gardens Nov. 24 without fanfare, although to quiet applause.
“It’s amazing!” said Liesl Cardon of Utah, who visited the lights display for the first time. “I especially love the reflection of the temple in the pool.”
She paused with her companion, CJ Passantino of Texas, both of whom are BYU students, in front of a large white nativity that appears to float in a small reflecting pond on the north side of the temple.
“I was thinking of how calm the water is,” she said. “It reminds me of the gift of peace that we get from our Savior — through His Atonement, and through prayer.”
“It’s a peaceful place,” she added.
Visitors’ center director Elder Robert Lochhead said the sister missionaries who mingle nightly with visitors throughout the gardens had a special prayer meeting before the lights were turned on for the first time this season and a “wonderful spirit” permeated the grounds.
“The sisters understand and take it very seriously that they have a unique opportunity to testify to a large number of people who come here,” he said. “By the end of the evening they are exhausted and exhilarated.”
Elder Lochhead said more than 6,000 visitors came into the center on opening night, and they received a significant number of referrals from people wanting to learn more.
“We love the Christmas lights,” he said. “We are so grateful for the hundreds and hundreds of volunteers who put it together and make it successful. It’s a real community effort.”
Elder Lochhead pointed out that inside the visitors’ center there is a display of more than 160 nativities from around the world and a special focus on the Church’s “Light the World” celebration, with videos and pass-along cards.
“Missionaries testify that Jesus Christ is the ‘Light of the World’ and invite visitors to participate in service throughout the season,” he said.
Outside the lights are turned on nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31 in downtown Mesa. Thirty-minute Christmas concerts are presented Dec. 1 through Dec. 25 on the north lawn.
On the west side of the gardens a near-life-size Italian-imported nativity is illuminated by an enormous star with tens of thousands of sparkling lights. Nearby, Lacey Ames of Mesa held her sleeping 8-month-old swaddled baby girl while explaining to her 3-year-old boy about the significance of the moment portrayed.
“Instead of the hype of presents we’re trying to focus on the true meaning of Christmas, which is Christ,” Ames said. “There is always a special spirit on the temple grounds when you’re looking at the Christmas lights that you can’t get anywhere else.”