Last year, two Hurricane Katrina survivors threw the switch to turn the Mesa Arizona Temple gardens into a dazzling world of Christmas lights.
Tonight, the duty at the Mormon temple grounds goes to Army Staff Sgt. Oscar Gomez of Tucson, newly returned from duty in Iraq, and his wife Kelli, who has led his unit’s spouse support organization.
The Bronze Star candidate, along with all who are serving in the military, will be honored at the 7 p.m. start of the 27th annual lights show, “Birth of Christ in Light and Music.” Hundreds of thousands of colored lights will shine tonight through Dec. 31 at the temple grounds, 525 E. Main St., sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
In 2003, USA Today designated the light show one of the “Ten Great Places to Have a Bright Christmas.”
While the lights shine, 38 school, church and community choirs and smaller ensembles will take turns giving 30-minute Christmas concerts beginning at 7 p.m. each night. Two nights, Dec. 21 and 26, will be concerts in Spanish.
In mid-October, more than 3,000 volunteers from 45 LDS stakes began attaching strings of lights to palm trees, shrubbery, walls, fences and walkways, said Dee Hobbs, president of the Temple Christmas Lights program.
The volunteers were furnished with instructions, photos and lights and could handle their tasks on their own schedules, he said. “They do their own little areas, and it all just comes together,” Hobbs said. “It is all quite amazing.”
Some 150 circuit breakers minimize power problems, while the lighting system has increasingly been converted to LED, or light-emitting diode, powered lights, which run with lower energy, he said.
While the church once estimated it had more than 600,000 lights burning, organizers quit counting, Hobbs said. “We don’t want to get into a contest with Salt Lake City or Glendale, so we decided we were not going to come up with a number.”
But the church estimates about 1.3 million people came onto the temple grounds last Christmas season to view the lights, and more than 90,000 guests went into the Temple Visitors Center, with its 13-foot marble replica of the original Christus statue found in Copenhagen, Denmark.
For the third year, one room at the center is dedicated to the International Nativity Display, with creches and Nativity sets from more than 15 countries.
“We do this for the community and to celebrate the birth of Christ,” Hobbs said. “We are very strong Christians, so this is a huge event to us.”
What: Temple Gardens Christmas Lights When: Kickoff at 7 p.m. today, with lights displayed 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31 Where: Mesa Arizona Temple grounds, 525 E. Main St., Mesa Cost: Free Information: www.christmastemplelights.com or (480) 964-7164