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Christmas lights return to the Washington D.C. Temple grounds; Elder Cook and Singapore’s ambassador press button to turn them on

Elder Quentin L. Cook and Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, Ashok Mirpuri, together press the button to illuminate the lights

KENSINGTON, Maryland — The Christmas lights, and their unifying message of peace and goodwill for the whole world, are back on at the Washington D.C. Temple.

More than 400,000 lights burst into view on the temple grounds Tuesday night, Nov. 29, when Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and Singapore’s ambassador to the United States, Ashok Mirpuri, pressed a red button together.

The ceremony launched the 45th annual Festival of Lights at the temple, the first complete festival since 2019.

Elder Cook said the lighting ceremony represented the commencement of the Christmas season celebration, which “commemorates the birth and life of Jesus Christ, who we revere as Savior and Redeemer of the world.

“As Christians, we believe that all of us are children of a loving Father in Heaven and that Jesus Christ is His only Begotten Son. Our scriptures speak of Jesus Christ as the light and life of the world” (3 Nephi 11:10-11).

Elder Cook called Jesus Christ “the ultimate symbol and champion of how to vanquish the superficial distinctions that otherwise divide us from our sisters and brothers in the family of man.”

Latter-day Saints take that “universal injunction seriously,” he said. “Members of our faith are committed to doing what we can to help better communities and break down barriers that prevent God’s children from sharing in the peace and goodwill that ought to be a common inheritance for all humankind.”

Ambassadors and other guests take photos and enjoy the Christmas lights following a ceremony to light the display at the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland, on Tuesday, November 29, 2022 | Brian Nicholson, for the Deseret News

The ceremony took place in the lobby of the temple visitors’ center. Dozens of invited ambassadors to the United States from around the world, diplomats and interfaith leaders sat with their families in front of the Christus statue. They faced a window that looked out at the brightly lit temple.

“Across the world, the Festival of Lights carries a deep symbolic and spiritual significance,” Mirpuri said. “In many religious traditions and cultures, light is celebrated as a representation of life and joy, the triumph of good, of hope, of warmth.”

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President Russell M. Nelson announced in April of 2021, that the Church would build its first temple in Singapore. Mirpuri said it would be the Church’s third in Southeast Asia, and Elder Cook praised Singapore for a rich legacy of religious tolerance.

“We look forward to welcoming the temple as a feature of Singapore’s multiethnic and multireligious landscape,” Mirpuri said.

Elder Cook told the ambassadors that their responsibilities reminded him of the shepherds who first received the news of Christ’s birth.

“You, like shepherds, must look to the welfare of your nations, communities and families as you seek to protect them from a multitude of dangers. It is no easy task,” he said.

He encouraged them not “to despair amid the continual doom loop of data that bombards us” but to confront challenges with a confidence “that comes from an understanding of the ‘good tidings’ and ‘great joy’ that the angel brought to ‘all people.’”

Elder Quentin L. Cook of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles speaks during a ceremony to light the Christmas light display at the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 | Brian Nicholson, for the Deseret News

The lighting ceremony symbolized a diversity of cultures, faith traditions and beliefs, said Elder Cook, who said his Christmas prayer was that all people would apply Christ’s principles of peace and goodwill.

He told the ambassadors about the Church’s efforts to do so.

“We work to feed the hungry, clothe the needy, welcome the stranger and care for the sick,” he said. “We seek to combat racism and prejudice, protect the natural environment and strengthen the bonds of understanding and fellowship that separate disparate groups.”

Elder Cook said the Church provides assistance to people within and beyond the Church because the good news delivered to shepherds about Christ’s birth was universal in nature.

“Our actions are motivated by a foundational belief that we are all God’s children,” he said.

The lighting ceremony included J.W. “Bill” Marriott and his wife, Donna Marriott, and the Washington D.C. Temple Choir. Everyone joined in singing Christmas carols together.

During the program, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney introduced Ambassador Mirpuri; Bill Marriott introduced Elder Cook. 

Bill Marriott, who has participated in every one of the temple’s Festivals of Lights, called Christ “the bright and morning star with light that can never be dimmed.”

Richard Marriott greets Elder Quentin L. Cook during a reception prior to the ceremony to light the Christmas light display at the Washington DC Temple in Kensington, Maryland, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022 | Brian Nicholson, for the Deseret News

Mirpuri and others expressed joy that the festival had returned.

In 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Festival of Lights became a drive-thru. The event was canceled in 2021 as workers focused on completing the temple renovation.

The temple — which closed in 2018 to renovate mechanical and electrical systems and refresh finishes and furnishings —  was rededicated in August by President Nelson.

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Green, red, white, purple and blue lights will illuminate the temple grounds each night from Dec. 1, 2022, through Jan. 2, 2023. In addition to the lights and decorated Christmas trees on the temple grounds, visitors can see 87 créche displays or Nativities from 64 countries inside the temple’s visitors’ center.

No ticket is required to see the lights or créches. Free tickets are required for the nightly performances — which include the Gay Men’s Chorus on Dec. 6, Polynesian dancers on Christmas Eve and Washington D.C. North missionaries singing Christmas carols on Christmas night. The Beijing Opera will perform on New Year’s Eve.

Tickets are available at dctemple.org.

Pavel Shidlovsky, Belarus Head of Mission, talks with Elder Quentin L. Cook and his wife, Sister Mary Cook, during a reception prior to the ceremony to light the Christmas light display at the Washington D.C. Temple in Kensington, Maryland, on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. | Brian Nicholson, for the Deseret News

Ambassador Frédéric Hegbe of the Republic of Togo and his wife, Izmira, were two of the 347,152 who attended the Washington D.C. Temple open house this summer. They returned Tuesday night for the Festival of Lights lighting ceremony.

“It was a wonderful, inspiring night,” Hegbe said. “I’m very attached to Christmas traditions. They are very meaningful to me. So are my friendships with many Latter-day Saints. I’m grateful for the humanitarian work the Church does in Ghana and Togo.”

Hegbe said he agreed with Mirpuri that the event and the lights pulled together people from around the world despite their different cultures and beliefs. He praised his peer for his nation’s religious tolerance.

“If everybody followed what they do in Singapore, we would have peace on earth, what Jesus wished,” Hegbe said.

The festival’s director, Mauri Earl, invited the ambassadors to the open house of the Richmond Virginia Temple from March 25 through April 15, 2023, excluding Sundays and the weekend of April 2023 general conference.

Until then, she said, “I hope the return of these lights this year will shine a spotlight on the kindness of the human soul.”

“This world needs light. It needs your light,” she added. “So I hope the return of the lights this year will glow brightly in your hearts and in your homes that you may feel and radiate more light, more love, more peace, because of your attendance here today.”

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