Festival of Lights Begins at Washington D.C. Temple and Visitors’ Center

Contributed By Lance Walker, Church News contributor

  • 18 December 2015

Visitors to the Washington D.C. Temple grounds enjoy Christmas lights, musical performances, and Nativity scenes as part of the annual Festival of Lights.  Photo by Jeffrey Borgholthaus.

Article Highlights

  • The 38th annual Festival of Lights began on December 1.
  • Kairat Umarov, the ambassador of Kazakhstan, spoke at the lighting ceremony.
  • Ambassador Umarov said lights are a symbol of joy and life-giving power.
  • Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy said uplifting music can inspire people to live better lives.

“This Festival of Lights carries deep spiritual meaning because everywhere and in every culture and in every religious tradition, light is the symbol of joy and of life-giving power. The Festival of Lights signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.” —Ambassador Kairat Umarov, ambassador of Kazakhstan

Accompanied by the rousing Hallelujah Chorus, more than 650,000 lights illuminated the grounds of the Washington D.C. Temple and Visitors’ Center during the 38th annual Festival of Lights lighting ceremony held on December 1.

The annual event, a long-standing tradition for many Church members in the area, draws thousands of visitors to the grounds, including ambassadors and other dignitaries from countries around the world.

The lighting event marked the official launch of the Christmas season at the temple’s visitors’ center. The month-long Christmas celebration has become a community tradition in the Washington D.C. area, drawing in guests from the region’s diversity of traditions and cultures.

In welcoming guests to the diplomatic event, Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy and his wife, Sister Laurel Lawrence, were joined by the ambassador of Kazakhstan, Kairat Umarov, as well as J. W. “Bill” and Donna Marriott and Ann Santini of the Church’s Office of Public and International Affairs. Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah introduced Ambassador Umarov.

The ambassador addressed the gathering and noted that the celebration of light brings people together.

“This Festival of Lights carries deep spiritual meaning because everywhere and in every culture and in every religious tradition, light is the symbol of joy and of life-giving power,” he said. “The Festival of Lights signifies the victory of light over darkness, knowledge over ignorance, good over evil, and hope over despair.”

Following Ambassador Umarov, Elder Lawrence observed that “music is one of God’s greatest gifts to mankind.” He recalled his experience of hearing the Hallelujah Chorus of Handel’s Messiah for the first time as a young man and the powerful spiritual impact it had on him. Elder Lawrence then related the story of George Frideric Handel and the divine inspiration he received while composing the beloved Messiah oratorio. Handel conducted many performances of Messiah and generously donated the proceeds to charitable causes. Of his audiences Handel said, “I should be sorry if I only entertain them; I wish to make them better.”

Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy; the ambassador of Kazakhstan, His Excellency Kairat Umarov; and Brother J. W. Marriott Jr., Washington D.C. Temple lighting ceremony. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

Elder Lawrence concluded his remarks by affirming that uplifting music—such as Messiah—does make people better. “It fills [the] spirit with light and drives away the darkness. … It will fill your hearts, as well as your eyes, with glorious light.”

The Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C., joined by soprano soloist Wendy Bryn Harmer, then sang the Hallelujah Chorus as the assembly counted down to the illumination of the lights. The grounds will be lit every night throughout the Christmas season. Inside the visitors’ center, guests will be able to see a scale model of the Washington D.C. Temple, which gives guests a room-by-room glimpse of the temple’s interior. Also on display is an international crèche exhibit, as well as trees decorated in a variety of themes. There are also nightly musical performances from choirs and orchestras.

At twilight the beauty of the Washington D.C. Temple grounds is enhanced with the addition of Christmas lights. Visitors to the grounds can enjoy musical performances and Nativity scenes, as well as the lights. Photo by Jeffrey Borgholthaus.

His Excellency Kairat Umarov, ambassador of Kazakhstan, and his sister, Ms. Zhamal Utesheva. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

Sister Laurel Lawrence and Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy greet the ambassador of Kazakhstan, His Excellency Kairat Umarov, and his sister, Ms. Zhamal Utesheva. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

The ambassador of Kazakhstan, His Excellency Kairat Umarov, shares remarks at the 38th Annual Festival of Lights lighting ceremony. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

The ambassador of Kazakhstan, His Excellency Kairat Umarov, joins Elder Larry R. Lawrence of the Seventy in illuminating over 650,000 lights. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

Church and community members gather in the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center for the 38th annual Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

Missionaries at the annual Festival of Lights held in the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

Children at the 38th annual Festival of Lights held in the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center on December 1, 2015. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

Church and community members gather in the Washington D.C. Temple Visitors' Center for the 38th annual Festival of Lights. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.

A choir performs during the 38th annual Festival of Lights held at the Washington D.C. Visitors' Center on December 1, 2015. Photo courtesy Washington D.C. Public Affairs.