Before joining with the Ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the United States to switch on Christmas lights on the grounds of the Washington D.C. Temple on Tuesday, Nov. 28, Elder David A. Bednar looked into the faces of ambassadors and dignitaries from numerous countries of the earth and expressed gratitude.
“I want to express gratitude to you and to the people you represent all over the earth, from whom I have learned so much,” said Elder Bednar of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.
Addressing the diverse crowd, Elder Bednar explained that his calling as an apostle of Jesus Christ has taken him to many of the nations represented in the room. “My opportunity to serve all over the earth teaches me a very important lesson — we are all basically the same because we are sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father,” he said.
Hundreds gathered at the Washington DC Temple Visitors’ Center for the annual Festival of Lights ceremony — which for the past 40 years has helped initiate the Christmas season in the nation’s capital.
Elder J.W. “Bill” Marriott Jr. and his wife, Sister Donna Marriott, have hosted and attended the event every year, and this special milestone was no exception.
“This is a bigger crowd than it was 40 years ago” said Elder Marriott, who formerly served as an Area Seventy in this area.
More than 300 people were in attendance to watch the lustrous ceremony, including Elder Bednar, U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), and His Excellency Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu, ambassador of the Republic of South Africa to the United States. Ambassador Mahlangu was introduced by Sen. Flake, after which the ambassador shared words of wisdom from his life working in politics and fighting for human rights before, during and after the South African Apartheid. Ambassador Mahlangu thanked the LDS Church for everything the organization has done in South Africa and drew comparisons between the teachings of Christ and the lighting ceremony.
“Light over darkness; good over evil,” Ambassador Mahlangu said about what the festival means to him.
After Ambassador Mahlangu’s speech, the children were invited to the front and given bells to assist the Mormon Choir of Washington and recording artist Nathan Pacheco sing the classic Christmas carol “Jingle Bells.” The children’s smiles were infectious, and quickly the entire room was grinning.
When the time came for the actual lighting, with the help of the string ensemble and the spectators, Elder Bednar and Ambassador Mahlangu, counted down the final moments until the lighting. In unison the two men pressed the large, ceremonious red button and the entire temple campus lit up the night.
The spectacular painting of lights was designed by head gardener Michael Rogers and a crew of workers. More than 650,000 bulbs — seemingly covering the entire light spectrum — covered the area and truly gave light out of the darkness.
“This is indeed a world-famous event,” Ambassador Mahlangu said to the mesmerized audience.
Before and after the ceremony, attendees were invited to view the International Creche Display in the visitors’ center. The multi-cultural nativity scenes from over 50 countries included exhibits from Costa Rica, Mali, Israel and Ambassador Mahlangu’s home, South Africa.
There was also non-Christmas related news announced at the festival. Starting in 2020, the public can view the Washington D.C. Temple during a public open house following a major renovation project. The temple is scheduled to close in March 2018.
The Washington D.C. Festival of Lights and the International Creche Display will be available for public viewing starting on Thursday, Nov. 30, and will remain open through the end of the year.
During his address, Elder Bednar spoke of the lights and other Christmas symbols. “May the beautiful lights of every Christmas season remind us of Him who is the source of all light,” he invited.