Christmas lights return to Mesa temple after 5-year hiatus

Roughly 150,000 people strolled through the temple grounds during the opening weekend

MESA, Arizona — Even before the lights were switched on at 5 p.m. the day after Thanksgiving, hundreds of visitors had arrived at the Mesa Arizona Temple grounds, eager to enjoy the return of the beloved event and a community tradition for decades.

Then shortly after sunset, crowds swelled, parking lots were packed and excitement was in the cool desert air as people gathered to experience the Mesa temple Christmas lights for the first time on the north lawn of the temple since 2017.

“The crowd was so kind and, for the most part, patient,” said Stacey Farr, who began serving as an assistant director of the lighting event 10 years ago and became director in 2015. She estimated at least 150,000 people strolled through the gardens during the opening weekend and Friday night, Nov. 25, was the largest she had ever experienced.

People everywhere marveled at the hundreds of thousands of glittering lights covering trees and shrubs; balls of orange lights dangling from citrus tree limbs; white lights hanging high in palm trees; a variety of colored lights adorning ground-level areas and raised planters, replicating flower blossoms and stalks — all of which worked together to illuminate the grounds of the Mesa temple.

“It is so nice to have the Christmas lights back after so many years,” said visitor Rick Tutt of Mesa on opening night. “I’ve never seen it this crowded.”

“There’s a wonderful spirit here,” said his wife, Floramae Tutt. “I love the Nativity displays and the lights — everything symbolizes Christ.”

Attending with a lot of visiting out-of-town family members, the Tutts said they’ve made the temple lights part of their Christmas celebrations from the earliest days of the event.

Balls of orange lights dangling from citrus tree limbs at the Mesa Arizona Temple Christmas light display on the temple grounds. | Scott P. Adair

The first Christmas lights were displayed on the temple grounds in 1979, when then Temple President L. Harold Wright envisioned an event that would be “a gift to the community” and one that would add a spiritual element to the local celebration of Christ’s birth. 

It started with a few thousand blue lights outlining the roof of the old visitors’ center, which was located on the north side of the temple and just south of Main Street in downtown Mesa. This year, in recognition of these origins, the north reflection pool — where the visitors’ center was once located — were outlined with blue lights. In addition, large white Nativity figures were set in the pool with the temple reflecting in the water behind them.

The event — previously called one of the “must-see holiday lighting extravaganzas in the United States” by a national television program — had drawn annually more than a million visitors from across Arizona and far beyond to partake of the Christmas spirit on these temple grounds. The lighting event took a hiatus when the temple and surrounding grounds closed in May 2018 for major renovation.

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A near life-size Italian Fontanini Nativity scene is displayed at the northwest corner of the temple with a newly designed star above the crèche, twinkling with 22,500 white lights. | Scott P. Adair

The temple was rededicated in December 2021, but the lights weren’t slated to return until this year.

A team of nearly 100 dedicated committee members and countless other volunteers from Mesa, Phoenix and Gilbert — many from local young single adult stakes — continued to make the event one of the largest known volunteer-driven Christmas lighting displays in the country.

Visitors to the Christmas displays at the Mesa Arizona Temple grounds can scan a QR code to listen to music and narration. | Scott P. Adair

“Our mission is to humbly and worthily create sacred Christmas displays, in music and lights, which reflect the beauty and integrity of the temple, inviting all people to feel Christ’s Spirit,” the committee’s mission statement states.

In addition to lights, there are favorite biblical vignettes scattered among olive trees with QR codes that take visitors to Church-produced videos giving deeper insight to the scenes. Each vignette has its own audio system playing accompanying music and narration. There are larger-than-life lighted wise men and their camels on the north lawn. A near life-size Italian Fontanini Nativity scene is displayed at the northwest corner of the temple with a newly designed star above the crèche, twinkling with 22,500 white lights.

Full-time sister missionaries from the Mesa, Phoenix, Tempe, Scottsdale and Gilbert missions and other volunteers from local stakes serve as hosts for the event.

Across the street, the Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center hosts a display of 150 Nativities from across the world and is open each evening 5-10 p.m. during the lighting event.

Visitors line up at the Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center to view Nativities from across the world. The holiday displays returned for Christmas 2022 after a five-year hiatus. | Scott P. Adair
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