For 37 nights, the Arizona Mormon Temple Gardens of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will be ablaze in dazzling Christmas lights for one of the East Valley’s Christmas traditions.
As many as 1 million people are expected to see the lights gracing walls, trees, shrubbery and sidewalks, along with many lighted figures. And it’s free.
"It is a gift to the community, and it is an outpouring of our love for the community and for our love for Christ," said event spokeswoman Camille Harris Taylor. "The lights represent the light of Christ that he brought into the world upon his birth, so we love to share that with everyone year after year."
The 45-minute lighting ceremony and kickoff will be 6 p.m. Friday. Brothers Freddie and Clyde Munn, survivors of Hurricane Katrina who have moved to the Valley, have been chosen to flip the switch to turn on the displays.
When the levees in New Orleans broke in September, the Munns’ neighborhood was quickly flooded, and water rushed into their home, where Freddie was wheelchair-bound. Clyde ripped off a closet door and fashioned a makeshift raft, then put Freddie’s wheelchair on top of it. The brothers and some of their neighbors made their way to Phoenix and spent four weeks with other hurricane survivors at Veterans Memorial Coliseum before being moved to an apartment.
They were among 82 families provided with direct relief from Mormon wards, working with the Arizona Interfaith Movement. Help included food, bedding, towels, rugs, dishes, utensils and cash.
The lighting ceremony will end with music by the Arizona Mormon Choir, the first of several nightly concerts by church and community groups.
The 30-minute concerts will be just north of the reflection pool, beginning at 7 p.m. For a schedule of groups, visit www.christmastemplelights.com/schedule.html.
An estimated 8,000 church volunteers will have some role in this year’s temple Christmas, which over the years has been regularly listed as one of the nation’s largest and most visited.
New this year is a display of famous biblical characters, Taylor said. "There will be an Isaiah display in front of an adobe dwelling, and passersby will hear a recorded presentation that discusses prophets like Isaiah, who testified about Christ and his birth." she said. Another display will depict Mary and Joseph on their journey to Bethlehem.
Repeated from last year will be an international display of creches and Nativity sets in the temple’s visitor center. Many of the works were found in Europe and the Middle East, Taylor said. The center also will feature a 10-minute film about Christ’s birth.
The center is open for tours 10 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Parking will be available in the temple’s lots, as well as at Pioneer Park and along neighboring streets.