Temple Square Flips the Switch on 2016 Christmas Lights

Contributed By Marianne Holman Prescott, Church News staff writer

  • 28 November 2016

Dave Whitaker of Spanish Fork and his daughter, Michelle, 3, tour the Christmas lights at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, November 25, 2016.  Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

An audible cheer filled Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City on November 25 as visitors to Church headquarters witnessed the annual “flip of a switch” and thousands of Christmas lights turned on.

For more than 50 years, Temple Square has been a destination for families and friends to see colorful lights during the Christmas season. Whether it is on the evening when the lights officially turn on for the season or anytime leading up to Christmas or through the first three days of the New Year, visitors to the display come—even in snow and cold temperatures—from around the world to enjoy the Christmas season and focus their thoughts on the Savior.

“It’s good [for getting] in the Christmas spirit,” said McKenzie Rice, as quoted in the Deseret News. “In a sense, it’s sharing the joy of Christ in Christmas.”

Justin Hansen of Salt Lake City, his daughter, Lettie, 8 months, and other family members tour the Christmas lights at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

The tradition began in 1965 when President David O. McKay asked arborist J. Leland Behunin, under head gardener Irvin T. Nelson, to string lights on Temple Square. That first unveiling brought around 15,000 people to the square.

Over the years the lights have gone from a display of thousands of lights to elaborate decorations and hundreds of thousands of lights. Arborists usually begin their work in August, making sure to care for the trees as they put up the display.

People tour the Christmas lights at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

In addition to the lights, Christmas music, unique Nativities from cultures around the world, and luminarias fill the square. Other events attract visitors to Temple Square—the Savior of the World production, the First Presidency’s Christmas Devotional, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas concert, and the annual Latino Christmas concert—and will take place leading up to Christmas.

The lights will turn on every night from dusk until 10:00 p.m. through December 31.

In addition to the lights in the evenings, Temple Square hosts free concerts put on by school, church, and other musical groups held in six different venues. Visit templesquare.com/christmas/ for a list of Christmastime events on Temple Square, including the schedule of free concerts.

Fernanda Phillips, left, and her daughter, Jacqueline, 5, niece, Kinley, 7, and nephew, Spencer, 6, tour the Christmas lights in the plaza at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

People tour the Christmas lights at Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

The Hansen family of Salt Lake City tours the Christmas lights near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

Christmas lights add accent to the Salt Lake Temple on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

People tour the Christmas lights near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

People tour the Christmas lights near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

People tour the Christmas lights near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

Lights in the reflecting pool on the plaza add to the brilliance of Christmas lights at Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

A visitor uses a cell phone to capture Temple Square's Christmas lights on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.

People tour the Christmas lights near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on November 25, 2016. Photo by Spenser Heaps, Deseret News.