Patriotism aglow in Mesa ceremony

MESA, Ariz. — The Mesa Arizona Temple's annual Christmas lighting ceremony took on a decidedly patriotic flare this year with songs and talk of freedom and help from the Boy Scouts of America.

For the 22nd year, a flip of the switch illuminated the temple grounds with more than 600,000 lights. This year a special feeling of renewed patriotism added to the holiday spirit.

A highlight of the program, held Nov. 23, was the Arizona Mormon Choir singing for the first time a song especially written for the event by local composer, Wanda West Palmer. Sister Palmer's song, entitled, "This Christmas Let Bells of Freedom Ring," honors the birth of Jesus Christ and the United States. Events of Sept. 11 motivated the composer to write it.

"It's become a time when we need comfort," Sister Palmer said. "If there ever was a time, it is this Christmas."

The program began when a local Scout troop posted the colors and led the audience in the pledge of allegiance, followed by the audience joining the choir in singing, "God Bless America." Flipping the switch for the lights was a special guest, George E. Freestone of the Tempe Arizona Stake. Brother Freestone, 103, is still active in Tempe's Troop 74. Dressed in full Scout uniform, he turned on the lights. He mentioned earlier that he had personally met Thomas Edison, the inventor of the electric light.

A native of Arizona, Brother Freestone said it was "quite an honor" to be asked to participate in an event that has been a part of his family's holidays for many years.

He was born in 1898, and his family moved to California where, in 1910, the year Boy Scouts of America was incorporated, he joined a newly formed troop. Several years later he moved back to Arizona.

Bruce Whiting, general chairman of the lighting festival, planned the lighting ceremony as well as organized the volunteers who made the light display possible. He said that it took more than 800 volunteers approximately 10,000 hours to put up the lights and decorate the grounds.

"You just can't imagine how many people worked hard to make this happen," said Brother Whiting.