Standing near the reflection pool on the east side of the Salt Lake Temple when the lights came on at dusk on Friday, Nov. 23, Cliff and Carolyn Richard from Denver, Colorado, let out an audible gasp as the trees around them lit up.
“We just stumbled upon this,” Cliff Richard said. “It feels like serendipity.”
The Richards came to Salt Lake for a family get-together prior to their son's upcoming wedding and decided to follow the crowd as they explored downtown Salt Lake City on Friday evening.
They said it was a pleasant surprise to get caught up in the commotion and excitement of the first lighting at the beginning of the Christmas season. It was a good first impression of Temple Square, Cliff Richard said.
A spectacular sight
For others, the lights at Temple Square are a traditional part of their Christmas season.
Dave and Heather Jones, members of the Pheasant Pointe stake in Lehi, Utah, along with their four sons, have made the drive to see the lights nearly every year they have lived in Utah. This was the first year they attended the initial lighting of Temple Square the day after Thanksgiving.
Following a tradition that started more than 50 years ago, each year crowds fill Salt Lake’s most famous downtown landmark the day after Thanksgiving as families, couples, friends and individuals gather in the cold to watch the lights turn on once again. For many, it marks the beginning of the holiday season that celebrates the light of the world, Christ the Savior.
“We’re making it a new tradition,” Dave Jones said. “We wanted to create a new tradition here, and this is as spectacular as Rockefeller.”
As an East Coast native, Dave Jones and his family used to enjoy going to the Macy’s parade in New York to celebrate Thanksgiving every year. Since moving to Utah, they hadn’t found something similar they wanted to do each year — until now.
And while the lights themselves are spectacular to see, visiting the lights at Temple Square is about more than just the spectacle. Walking around the temple grounds full of lights and nativity scenes is a way to help them remember Christ and feel His spirit during the Christmas season.
“Christmas is a time of giving,” said LDSBC student Fernando Arauz. “Visiting Temple Square gives me a sense of peace and calm so I can focus my thoughts. It is a subtle reminder of things we may not think about all the time.”
Standing by her son Fernando inside the Salt Lake Tabernacle listening to Christmas hymns emanating from the famous Tabernacle organ, Ana Maria Arauz added, “It is beautiful here, and it feels special.”
A Church member from El Salvador, Ana Maria Arauz said she felt the same spirit on Temple Square as she does when she visits the temple at home in El Salvador.
“It feels welcoming, like family and home,” she said.
Connecting through Christ
For those who serve on Temple Square as missionaries, the lights offer an opportunity to connect with visitors in new ways.
“Looking around, I see people sharing in what they know. It’s a spiritual thing,” said Sister Sharon Bryars, a senior missionary from Montana who serves at the Church’s Family History Library. “It offers a way for people to experience what the Church is about.”
Twenty years ago, when Sister Bryars first came to see the lights on Temple Square, she wasn’t yet a member of the Church. This year was her first time back since then, and she said all she remembers from 20 years ago were that the lights were beautiful. But now, with her knowledge of the gospel, she said the whole experience means so much more.
“You can just feel the Christmas spirit here because we’re all united in one thing,” said Sister Angelica Hadley, a missionary on Temple Square, mindful that it's a celebration of Christ.
Noting the holiday spirit that comes along with the lights at Temple Square, her companion, Sister Jade Tuckett, added, “It helps spread the message. It becomes even easier to talk about Christ. I feel the Spirit and my testimony increases.”
Visiting the lights
Visitors can visit Temple Square to see the lights any time during the Christmas season. Lights will be displayed daily between dusk and 10 p.m. from now until Dec. 31.
Additionally, productions of "Mr. Krueger’s Christmas" and "The Nativity" will be shown in the Legacy Theater of the Joseph Smith Memorial Building from Friday, Nov. 23, 2018, to Tuesday, Jan. 1, 2019, along with the current selection of films scheduled.