Festival of Lights Sparks the Spirit of Christmas

The Washington D.C. Temple, a familiar landmark in the United States capital, is most stunning during the Christmas season, when 300,000 lights sparkle from the trees during the annual Festival of Lights. This monthlong event has become a top attraction and Christmas tradition in the Washington area. More than one million visitors, including international diplomats, the media, and representatives of various faiths, have attended this event since it began in 1978. Last year, the festival drew nearly 75,000 people inside the visitors’ center for the event’s 25th anniversary, and an estimated 150,000 people drove through the grounds to see the lights.

From the first week of December to New Year’s Day in January, the nightly activities at the visitors’ center include displays, films, and performances that share the Christmas message while celebrating the world’s diversity of cultures and religions. Themes of brotherhood, goodwill, and shared values resonate with visitors who say they feel a sense of family and peace at the festival.

Organizers and participants in the festival seek the Spirit and inspiration as they work on the festival. “We began each evening with prayer,” recalls K. Gary Garff, former director of the visitors’ center, “to invite the Spirit so we could build bridges to the community.”

Outside, missionaries direct arriving cars and tour buses while a helicopter occasionally hovers for a bird’s-eye view. For some guests, it is the luminous temple spires against the stark December sky that draw them. Others say it is the live outdoor nativity or the wonderful feeling of serenity and respite from the world among the twinkling lights. Elder M. David Knight, director of the visitors’ center, believes that “people’s hearts are softened at this time of year, and the temple becomes a symbol of peace and hope.”

Inside the center, the outstretched arms of an eight-foot-tall Christus statue welcome a colorful cross section of the world—people of all ages and backgrounds in jeans or saris, turbans or baseball caps. Washington, D.C., is truly an international community, drawing people from many nations to work in diplomatic or government assignments or in other professions. Gracious sister missionaries often surprise guests by speaking to them in their native languages. Sister Leung, a missionary from Hong Kong, believes that as we “extend Christ’s love, people feel the Spirit and feel connected to a larger family.” This is a powerful message for those far from home or country.

Dotted about the center are 20 Christmas trees decorated by area stakes. Some reflect scriptural passages, while four international trees are covered with donated dolls, flags, and baskets from the embassies of 84 nations. Visitors also view an array of beautiful crèches crafted by artisans from around the world. Arranged by the center’s Cultural Arts Committee, the exhibit changes yearly and displays nativities made of wood, clay, tin, crystal, porcelain, and amber blown glass.

Each evening’s highlight is a holiday concert in the visitors’ center’s 552-seat theater, featuring Church and community members. Twice each night several musical groups and dancers add their unique spirit to the season.

A full-time missionary couple serves as the visitors’ center directors and plans and supervises the festival, assisted by other missionaries and staff. To open the festival, the center hosts a private lighting ceremony and reception. Guests include ambassadors, members of Congress, and other officials. Each year, an ambassador and a General Authority present holiday messages prior to the Christmas lights being turned on.

Others who assist with the festival include an international advisory group, hundreds of volunteers, and groundskeepers who string the lights with the assistance of area institute members. It is an enormous undertaking. But Ann Santini, area director of international affairs, reflects the feelings of many participants when she says, “This event enables people from every country to feel the Spirit of Christ, and we consider our efforts part of the Church’s gift to the community.”

[photo] Gazing up at a statue of Christ, three young girls at the Washington D.C. Visitors’ Center Festival of Lights face the true meaning of Christmas. (Photograph by Page Johnson.)

[photo] A doll from Russia adorns one of 20 trees in the Washington D.C. Visitors’ Center. Embassies from around the world donated ornaments for the Festival of Lights. (Photograph by Page Johnson.)

Disasters Test Preparedness of Members

Power Blackout

A power blackout that struck much of the northeastern United States and southern Canada on 14 August 2003 proved to be a test of personal and family preparedness.

The blackout started late in the afternoon, engulfing most of New York State and nearby parts of New England, spreading west to Ohio and Michigan, and reaching across the border into Ontario, Canada. Some areas had power restored within an hour, while other areas were without power for nearly three days.

Stake presidents throughout the affected area said their members generally fared well when power was lost, leaving them to rely on emergency plans and home storage.

“A few minutes after the blackout began, I contacted priesthood leaders to implement our 72-hour emergency plan, which includes verbal communication with each family, paying particular attention to widows, children, and the disabled,” said Bishop James Kaski of the Blue Water Ward, Grand Blanc Michigan Stake.

A common observation among stake presidents and bishops was the sense of calm that prevailed among members. “Being fairly well prepared certainly made a big difference in how we reacted,” Bishop Kaski said.

The blackout was the largest loss of power in the history of the United States, affecting an estimated 50 million people. Many Church members working in Manhattan were stranded by the stalled subway system and spent the night in a stake center in New York City. Some visitors to the city also used the stake center after their electronic hotel keys were rejected because of the power outage.

In the Grand River Branch, Detroit Michigan District, a single mother with two children offered to bring widows to her home, where she could feed them from her home storage. She also walked to her neighbors’ houses and offered food and assistance.

After learning of Lianne Racioppo, a member in Toronto who had a home storage program and was prepared for the disaster, the Toronto Sun interviewed her for a feature article in a recent issue. Lianne, whose husband, Silvano, is bishop of the Don Mills Ward, Toronto Ontario Stake, told the newspaper of the Church’s counsel to prepare for emergencies.

Forest Fire

Fueled by dry vegetation, a swift-moving forest fire swept through Kelowna, British Columbia, Canada, on 22 August 2003, causing the evacuation of an estimated 30,000 people—including most members of the Kelowna Second Ward, Vernon British Columbia Stake—and destroying 238 homes.

The fire, triggered by a lightning strike, destroyed one member’s home, that of Bishop William R. Spittle of the Kelowna Second Ward.

More than 150 members fled their homes with as little as 20 minutes’ warning. “Some literally grabbed 72-hour kits,” said President Kent G. Burnham of the Vernon stake.

“The other ward [Kelowna First Ward] put their shoulder to the wheel and took the project on,” said President Burnham. “They did a marvelous job of providing assistance and support to those who needed it. … Nobody was without a place to stay.”

Because an entire ward was evacuated, Bishop Andrew L. Draper of the Kelowna First Ward said that the typical emergency calling procedure, in which home teachers check on the members they visit, broke down. The local meetinghouse was open 24 hours a day during the evacuation, “so members could come to the Church if they had nowhere else to go.”

Keeping the meetinghouse open also provided local leaders with the opportunity to inventory where members were located during the evacuation.

Bishop Draper said that many members also volunteered in the community. He gave time at an evacuation center doing registration work, and Latter-day Saints made hundreds of sandwiches for firefighters who could not leave the front lines.

Hurricane Isabel

A rare category five at her peak, Hurricane Isabel churned out winds of 161 mph (259 kph) before weakening on its slow path to the East Coast of the United States. On 18 September 2003 Isabel made landfall at Drum Inlet, Outer Banks, North Carolina, as a category two. The storm then passed through Virginia, Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania, and up into Canada. New Jersey and New York also suffered damage from the storm.

Priesthood leaders in the area began preparations early. The Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake Center was set up as a command post. About 100 missionaries evacuated from North Carolina and the Virginia coast found safe haven there. Home teachers manned their phones, calling families and checking for needs.

John Ruckart, a member of the Belmont Ward, Richmond Virginia Chesterfield Stake, housed four missionaries during the storm. Brother Ruckart recounted the experience they had watching a large tree in his front yard succumb to the storm.

“We watched the tree swaying in the wind. I knew it was going; I just didn’t want it to fall on my house,” said Brother Ruckart. “The elders and I went to our knees and prayed fervently. For more than half an hour the tree did its dance back and forth. Then a huge wind gust took it down. It fell beside the house. I lost about 25 trees in all, but the house is fine.”

Joel Hancock, president of the Kinston North Carolina Stake, rode out the storm in his island home in Kinston, one of the first places to experience the storm.

“Three members’ houses [were] severely flooded and about 600 [other homes in the area were] flooded,” President Hancock said. “After the storm our missionaries were very involved in the cleanup. My wife and other members of the Relief Society worked at a Red Cross feeding station. We were prepared and had the opportunity to donate some of our food storage to a local shelter.”

The Washington D.C. Temple also experienced the force of Hurricane Isabel. “We are on a hill, and we had the full brunt of the wind, but there wasn’t any damage to the temple,” reported W. Brandt Brooksby, first counselor in the temple presidency. “We lost power for two days. Our lights came on and all the houses around us remained in the dark. Our power was restored for a reason.”

Becky Robinette Wright and Church News contributed to these reports.

[photo] Church member Lianne Racioppo was featured in a local newspaper for her knowledge of personal preparedness after blackouts in Canada. (Photograph by Associated Press.)

Church to Move Campuses, Invest in Salt Lake City Redevelopment

With an expressed desire to keep the area around Temple Square vibrant, safe, and clean, the Church has announced major plans to redevelop several blocks in downtown Salt Lake City. Included in the plans are the relocations of LDS Business College and Brigham Young University’s Salt Lake Center to downtown.

“I want to make it clear that we are irrevocably committed to the economic future of this city and to creating a vibrant and beautiful place,” said Presiding Bishop H. David Burton at a press conference on 8 October 2003 unveiling preliminary designs for the redevelopment.

Two city blocks immediately south of Temple Square, which house the shopping centers Crossroads Plaza and ZCMI Center Mall, will be redeveloped. Plans include improving retail and office space and also adding residential space. In addition, the Church announced it would move the campuses of BYU’s Salt Lake Center and LDS Business College from their present locations elsewhere in Salt Lake to downtown. They will be built west of the Family History Library and the Museum of Church History and Art.

Map of Salt Lake City(click to view larger)

Map by Thomas S. Child

Plans are designed to attract visitors and residents to downtown as well as spur investment in the area by other entities, said Bishop Burton. The campus relocations alone will bring 4,000 students to the downtown area.

“We feel we have a compelling responsibility to protect the environment of the Salt Lake Temple,” President Hinckley stated during an April 2003 general conference address, shortly after the Church announced its intentions to purchase Crossroads Plaza. At the time the Church already owned the ZCMI Center and most of the land on the affected blocks. In September the Church finalized its purchase of Crossroads. “The owners of the buildings have expressed a desire to sell. The property needs very extensive and expensive renovation. We felt it imperative to do something to revitalize this area.”

“The core issue is protecting the environs of the temple,” reiterated Bishop Burton.

Bishop Burton also emphasized the venture is funded through the commercial entities of the Church. “None of this money comes from the tithing of our faithful members,” Bishop Burton said. “That is not how we use tithing funds.”

Planning for the new college campuses will begin immediately. The retail redevelopment is in its final planning stages, and work will begin sometime in 2004.

[illustration] A rendering depicts proposed changes to Church-owned property in downtown Salt Lake City. The changes will help to maintain the area around Temple Square. (Rendering courtesy of Church Public Affairs.)

In the News

Book of Mormon “Changed America”

Book Magazine recently named the Book of Mormon on its list of “20 Books That Changed America.” The magazine compiled the list in honor of the United States 227th birthday and included it in its July/August 2003 issue.

“We set out to find the twenty novels and nonfiction titles that have had the greatest impact on the history of the country: the ones that led to concrete, definable changes in the way Americans live their lives,” wrote Jerome Kramer in Book Magazine.

Of the Book of Mormon he stated, “The book provides the theological underpinnings for one of the world’s most vibrant religions.”

Conference Center Earns Landscape Award

The American Society of Landscape Architects has recognized the Conference Center in Salt Lake City with a Design Merit Award for excellence in landscape architecture. It was one of 33 award-winning projects selected from 436 entries. The awards are presented according to quality of design, functionality, context, environmental responsibility, and relevance to the profession, the public, and the environment.

Designed by Olin Partnership of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the landscaping of the Conference Center features trees, grasses, and wildflowers native to Utah.

Cardston Temple Wins Beautification Award

The town of Cardston recently recognized the Cardston Alberta Temple in Canada with one of the city’s annual beautification awards—the first time the temple has been honored in such a way.

Stan Johnson, former Cardston mayor and a counselor in the temple presidency, said the award is one indication of the “tremendous contribution that is made to the overall beautification of our community by the temple.”

The Cardston Temple was the first temple to be designed without a tower or an assembly hall. It was dedicated by President Heber J. Grant in 1923 and rededicated in 1991 by President Gordon B. Hinckley, then First Counselor in the First Presidency, after extensive remodeling.

Memphis Temple Wins America in Bloom Award

Officials from the city of Bartlett, Tennessee, surprised Memphis Tennessee Temple President Boyd Lee when they announced that the temple, located just northeast of Memphis, had won an America in Bloom award. The reason for the surprise: no one from the temple had entered it in the contest.

Local America in Bloom committee members entered structures in their area that they felt should be in the contest. Pat Casey, one of the committee members, logged hundreds of miles driving around the city taking pictures of churches that she felt should be entered. When the national America in Bloom representatives were in town, she took them to the temple.

“You just have to see this building in person,” she told them. “It is beautiful.”

School of Management Moves Up in Rankings

Brigham Young University’s Marriott School of Management recently advanced to number 26 in The Wall Street Journal’s 2004 rankings of top business schools worldwide.

The newspaper also ranked BYU second behind Yale University in the new “Emphasis on Ethics” category as “best for hiring graduates with high ethical standards.” In addition, BYU’s Marriott School ranked third in the “Hidden Gems” category, a ranking of 10 schools that “don’t receive the respect and attention they deserve.”

Earlier in the year, Financial Times of London advanced the Marriott School of Management to 51st in its global ranking of the top 100 MBA (Master of Business Administration) programs.

BYU’s business and law schools are also among the top 50 in the United States, according to U.S. News & World Report’s Best Graduate Schools issue. The Marriott School of Management was ranked 29th for the second straight year, and the J. Reuben Clark Law School advanced to 31st in the magazine’s rankings.

Church News contributed to these reports.

[photo] The Book of Mormon was recently named one of 20 books that changed America.

[photo] The Cardston Alberta Temple received an award for adding beauty to its community.


Thomas L. Kane

Kudos to Elder Lance B. Wickman for his outstanding article about Colonel Thomas L. Kane—a God-sent benefactor to our people at a time when his excellent services were sorely needed (see September 2003 issue). And kudos to the Ensign staff—your layout and art are outstanding and your articles are timely and appropriate. It is a joy to receive the Ensign. Martha S. Hatch Socorro Ward Los Lunas New Mexico Stake

Inspired Visiting Teaching Message

Recently, my visiting teachers were inspired to focus on this portion of the message: “In our lives there are unsettling seasons and circumstances when we are called upon to move out of our comfort zone and place complete trust in the Lord. As we … exercise faith in Jesus Christ, the Spirit becomes a trusted companion” (Ensign, Sept. 2003, 71). At present I am preparing for a move, and while I am doing all I can to make the adjustment a smooth one, there are a lot of details to take care of. Before my visiting teachers came to see me that day, an oppressive feeling had settled over me. They helped me realize that my complete trust needs to be placed in the Lord, as this move is an answer to prayer, and I must allow the Spirit to be more of a trusted companion. After their visit, the oppressive feeling was gone. Thank you for the inspired message and the comfort it brought. Sharlie Carter Louisville Sixth Ward Louisville Kentucky Stake

After Divorce

I appreciate the article in the August 2003 Ensign, “After Divorce: Help for Latter-day Saint Men,” by A. Dean Byrd. As a mother who has experienced the pain of divorce, I know firsthand the associated trials that put us through the fiery furnace.

This article helped in two ways: it gave practical advice for both the person going through a divorce and loved ones on the sidelines, and it validated that there are other good people going through the divorce process. It helped me better understand some of the feelings my current husband is dealing with. Although his divorce was almost 10 years ago, the effects are felt for a lifetime.

The information about financial challenges, the impact on children, and the awkwardness sometimes exhibited at ward meetings was very helpful. Many people divorce because of someone else’s choices. Divorce leaves you feeling worthless, frustrated, helpless, and inadequate. Much is written to help widows and orphans, but precious little to help the divorced. This article is a good start. It brought to light many issues that tend to fester in the darkness, validated that one can still be a good person even after divorce, and gave some solid advice. Linda Crandell Dahlgren Branch Fredericksburg Virginia Stake

Subscribe Online

Church magazine subscriptions are now available online at www.ldscatalog.com for subscribers in the United States and Canada. This includes subscriptions to the Ensign, New Era, and Friend as well as to the 48 language editions of the Liahona. Talking books for the visually impaired are also available.

Gift subscriptions—perfect for the Christmas season—can also be ordered online. Those who prefer to order by phone can still easily do so by calling 1-800-537-5971.

Plans call for eventually making online subscriptions available in other areas as well.