Lights have always been a part of Christmas, not just because of their beauty and brilliance but because of their sacred significance, Elder L. Tom Perry remarked Nov. 24 at the annual Christmas lighting ceremony on Temple Square.
Elder Perry of the Council of the Twelve participated, along with the Mormon Youth Symphony and Chorus, in a half-hour program in the Tabernacle. A capacity audience was seated in the Tabernacle, and thousands more stood outside on the grounds despite a steady, late-autumn drizzle."We hope that the real meaning of Christmas will burn as a bright light to illuminate our souls during this special season," Elder Perry declared, adding that the word light occurs often in the scriptures. He cited Gen. 1:3, "And God said, Let there be light," and Psalm 27:1, "The Lord is my light and my salvation."
"If we follow the One whose birthday we celebrate at this glorious season of the year, His light, the light of Christ, will lead us back to His presence," Elder Perry said.
Earlier in his talk, he read the account of the birth of Jesus in Matthew and commented: "I do not know of any other place on earth I would rather be to usher in the Christmas season than right here on Temple Square, unless it would be at the manger in Bethlehem. But then, Bethlehem is so far away from family and friends, and surrounding ourselves with them is so much a part of Christmas."
A tradition at the Perry household, he said, is to visit Temple Square the night the lights are turned on, and afterward to have his children and grandchildren come to his home.
"One present is placed under the tree for each grandchild to open. However, the presents must remain at our home as an enticement for them to return often for a visit," he related, bringing a chuckle from the audience.
The evening is spent, he said, telling experiences of past Christmases, such as one shared by his father, who grew up on an isolated farm.
Elder Perry related: "It was a bitter, cold night on Christmas Eve that year. After supper, Elder Perry's father'sT father arose from the table and said he had something to do in the barn. After he left the house a terrible blizzard raged outside. The blowing snow made it impossible to even see the barn which was some distance from the house. All night the little family sat huddled up against the fireplace, awaiting the return of their father. When he failed to return, they were certain he could not have lived through such a terrible storm outside the house. Fear struck this little family for they were certain they would find their father frozen to death in the morning."
But as dawn arrived the father returned. He had been trapped in the barn by the life-threatening storm and had spent the night making a wagon from an equipment box so his sons could have a Christmas gift. Though they were pleased with the wagon, the real Christmas gift was having their father home safely, Elder Perry said.
The apostle shared another Christmas memory of the time he was stationed with U.S. troops in Japan just after World War II. He said they found orphaned children raiding the garbage cans behind their quarters. Motivated by compassion for the children, he and his companions wrote to their families saying they would soon be home and asked them not to send them Christmas gifts but instead to send gifts and toys for the orphans.
"My, how our families responded!" he recalled. "Little trucks and dolls and everything else that goes with Christmas started to arrive."
Permission was received to cut down and decorate a Christmas tree, and a kindly woman taught him how to fold little birds out of paper for Christmas tree ornaments, he added.
On Christmas morning the children came with anticipation for their first Christmas. They sang a song in English for the Americans they had diligently rehearsed, called "You Are My Sunshine."
"That Christmas has always burned in my heart as I remember that special experience," Elder Perry said.
Finishing his talk a bit before 6 p.m – the time appointed to turn on the lights – Elder Perry asked director Robert C. Bowden to lead the symphony in an instrumental song.
After the song, Elder Perry counted down the remaining seconds and then closed the switch, illuminating some 250,000 tiny lights attached to bushes, trees, buildings and fixtures throughout the square. People inside the Tabernacle – and outside huddled under umbrellas – spontaneously exclaimed, "Ooh!"
The audience then joined with the symphony and chorus singing carols.
Earlier in the program, the symphony performed the familiar Leroy Anderson arrangement of "Sleigh Ride." Youngsters in the audience seemed fascinated as percussionists provided the sound effects of sleigh bells, whip cracks and a horse's clip-clops.