A young woman already used to the bright lights flipped the switch Friday night, Nov. 28 night and turned the Mesa Arizona Temple Grounds into a dazzling world of colorful holiday splendor.
Brooke White, 25, who grew up in a Mesa ward of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and is now a recording artist in Van Nuys, Calif., finished in the top five last spring as part of the seventh season of "American Idol" on the Fox network.
White, the daughter of Brad and Kaylene White of Mesa, turned the switch for the 29th annual temple lights display ceremonies at 7 p.m. Nov. 28 on the grounds, 525 E. Main St. The lights will be on daily through Jan. 1, from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. for the public to see as they wander the sprawling grounds.
Church leaders expect more than a million people will visit the manicured grounds to walk through the gardens where trees, shrubs, walls, walkways and water features have been trimmed in colored lights on the theme "Celebrate the Birth of Christ in Lights and Music." At 7 p.m. each day, a Valley choir, ensemble or soloist will perform on the stage on the south side of the visitors center, for a concert of about a half-hour.
More than 200 groups applied for one of the 34 nights, said event spokesman Cecily Markland. Some were requested to apply because of the quality of their music, she said.
"Some are from schools, and some are the bigger choirs in the area that would bring people with them," she said.
On Dec. 14, however, a multidenominational choir, Voices of Peace, will sing at 7 p.m., and a combined choir of St. Anne's Catholic Church in Gilbert and the Gilbert Arizona Stakes Choir will perform at 8 p.m. The full schedule may be found online (www.christmastemplelights.com/pages/concerts.html).
For the fifth year, the visitors center will host international nativity displays. Carefully chosen sets of crafted manger scenes by artisans from around the world will wrap around a room as individual interpretations of Christ's birth.
"Each of these sets is an expression of deep love for the Savior," said Debbie Horne, the exhibit's designer. Among this year's scenes are sets from China, Japan, Peru and South Africa.
That display opened Monday, Nov. 24 and may be seen daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. through Jan. 1, the same hours the visitors center will be open for tours and the showing of a short film depicting Christ's birth.
Volunteers who have worked on the lights have continued a process to replace conventional lights with light-emitting diode (LED) lights, which use up to 90 percent less electricity.
"When you look at them, they are way brighter," Markland said. "They are a little more dramatic."
"It is absolutely spectacular," said Dee Hobbs, who has overseen the event for five years.
Known as one of the Southwest's most popular Christmas displays, the temple lights are the result of more than 4,000 volunteers working about 10,000 hours. "It has grown to be the largest-known volunteer-driven Christmas lights display," Markland said.
Within a few years of its beginnings in 1980 with just 5,000 lights, ABC's "Good Morning America" dubbed the Mesa light show one of the nation's three "must-see" holiday lighting displays.
Workers typically start in September, removing light strings from a warehouse and painstakingly going over each light. Assignments to decorate certain areas of the grounds are given to families or single wards, for example.
"We have people who do it year after year," Markland said. "We have had an outpouring of help and willingness to do it."