Forty ambassadors to the United States, accompanied by family members, attended the opening night of the seventeenth annual Festival of Lights on the Washington Temple grounds. Those in attendance listened to remarks by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles and watched as Elder Maxwell and Ahmed Maher El Sayed, ambassador of the Arab Republic of Egypt, turned the key together that illuminated the 300,000 lights adorning the grounds of the Washington Temple Visitors’ Center.
“Ennobling music, genuine love, and directional light are all precious things in today’s world which is sometimes dissonant, spiteful, and dark,” Elder Maxwell told the audience. He recognized the international flavor of the audience when he commented that “love and music never need a visa. They cross over all borders and link various generations and cultures. Light can permeate all climes, and it is the means by which we see reality more clearly and can distinguish between truth and error as well as giving us needed personal direction.”
Ambassador Sayed also spoke at the opening night festivities, remarking that “we are all here to give testimony to what is best in humanity. … May the thousands of lights which we have just turned on light our hearts and our lives with love and fraternity, with tolerance and understanding. May they bring a message of hope and solidarity to those who are alone, those who are afraid, those who are threatened, those who suffer everywhere.”
Officials report that more than 120,000 people visited the Washington Temple Visitors’ Center during the Festival of Lights. In addition to the glorious holiday decorations outside, which included a nativity scene with a live Mary and Joseph, inside the visitors’ center were fifteen ten-foot trees decorated by members of local stakes. Christmas tree themes included the birth of Christ, family history, and Christ’s teachings. Four of the trees were trimmed with handmade dolls created by young women in the area and which represented different nationalities. Dressed in native costumes from the continents of Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Europe, as well as from the Pacific Islands, the dolls were a festival highlight for many visitors.
Halfway across the nation, the restored homes in Nauvoo were decorated outside with lights, while inside they were bedecked in traditional 1840s pioneer style. More than two thousand people toured the area and enjoyed the holiday decorations.
Nauvoo Restoration Inc., an organization formed in 1982 to restore and preserve significant historical sites in Nauvoo, made five-foot steel-formed stars available to local businesses and residents. More than two hundred of the stars were decorated throughout the city.