As I buttoned my coat and tied the cords of my knit cap, I shivered with excitement. The whole Christmas season lay before me, and tonight Dad was taking us out into the middle of it. I hadn’t a clue where, but it didn’t matter. Dad always had a good plan for family night.
“There’s a special event on Temple Square tonight,” Dad told us as we drove downtown. “I had you dress warmly because it’s outdoors.” Becki, my little sister, was bouncing with anticipation as we searched for a parking spot. I couldn’t help bouncing a little, too. We had only recently moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, and the granite-gray walls of the Salt Lake Temple were a source of wonder to me.
When we reached Temple Square, there was quite a crowd gathered in the garden south of the temple. Bleachers and a podium had been set up on a little slope. Dad led us to a spot slightly above and to the side of the bleachers. We stamped our feet to keep warm in the cold night air.
Dad hoisted Becki onto his shoulders. “Look,” he said softly. “There’s President McKay.” I stretched to see, and there he was! President David O. McKay! I could hardly believe it. I could see his wavy white hair and smiling face. The feeling I had was amazing. I felt tingly. I hardly had time to think about it, though, because the program was starting.
The people on the bleachers turned out to be members of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, who sang some Christmas songs. I was hearing the Mormon Tabernacle Choir in person! I kept on tingling, and somehow I knew it wasn’t from the cold. Then, after an introduction, President McKay stood up and reached into a box partly hidden by the podium.
It’s hard to describe the marvelous moment when the prophet flipped the switch. The light! The color! Thousands of tiny lightbulbs sparkled in the trees. The walkways were lined with them, and the bushes, shrubs, and flower beds were suddenly transformed. A huge gasp and a sigh rose into the night as the crowd shared the wonder of the moment. We soon found ourselves moving along the sidewalks and pathways around the Tabernacle, past monuments and fountains. It was glorious! I had to keep reminding myself to breathe.
“Well,” I thought, “this is Christmas!” It seemed absolutely right to me that I should feel the spirit of Christmas so strongly this close to the house of the Lord. After all, we were celebrating the Lord’s birth. Christmas lights ought to shine more brightly here. And it was perfect to have the prophet turn on the lights. He represented Jesus Christ, and Jesus is the Light of the World. It felt like a little bit of heaven.
That was in 1965. Almost every Christmas since then, lights have gleamed on Temple Square. Going to see the lights on Temple Square became a Christmas tradition for our family, as it has been for countless others. It is more than a tradition for me, though. It has become part of my testimony. Several things happened to me as I watched President McKay turn on the lights that December night. I felt the Holy Ghost witness to me that the old gentleman with white hair was a true prophet of God. I also came to know as I had never known before that the temple is God’s holy house. I promised myself that I would feel that joy and wonder again—by being worthy to enter it someday.
In December 1996 I found myself again on Temple Square, this time inside the temple. It was the day our daughter was married. As I watched my daughter smile with the joy of her dream come true, I remembered another December long ago and the witness I had felt. I looked around me, seeing the people I love most sharing a long-awaited day. This was happiness. This was Christmas!
[Christ Is the Light]
“I testify that Christ is the light to all mankind.” President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Christ Is the Light to All Mankind,” Ensign, Nov. 1991, 4.