The Arizona Mormon Temple grounds in Mesa will burst into a dazzling blaze of colorful lights Friday night when the “Temple Garden Christmas: A Celebration of Lights and Music” kicks off for its 24th holiday season.
Touted as one of the largest holiday displays in the Southwest, event spokeswoman Camille Taylor calls it the world’s most ambitious Christmas lighting carried out entirely by volunteers. The lighting is sponsored by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
More than a million people are expected to visit the sprawling grounds to behold some 600,000 lights in what has become a holiday tradition. Lights will be on daily 5:30 to 10 p.m. through Jan. 2. For weeks, volunteers from Mormon wards have methodically taken strings of lights from storage, tested them and artfully attached them to the ample shrubbery, trees, walls, fences and walkways of the spacious temple grounds.
More than 25 light displays of shepherds, deer and angels have been erected. About 800 people are expected to be involved, giving more than 10,000 hours of time.
With “volunteerism” as this year’s theme, organizers have chosen a senior women’s community service group, Friends In Deed, to flip the switch during the ceremonies at 6 p.m. Friday near the reflection pool outside the Temple Visitors Center, 525 E. Main St. The group consists of about 20 women age 60 or older whose volunteerism has focused on the needs of children and families.
One member, Joyce Constant, said the women had spent many years scattered among other organizations, raising funds for children. “We decided it was time to move on and form an independent group,” she said.
Taylor calls the colored light show a “gift to the community.” It may take on special meaning this year in Mesa, after the city had to sharply diminish its downtown Main Street decorations because of a tight municipal budget.
The temple lighting began in 1980 with 5,000 lights and grew to 250,000 by 1988. It once got mentioned on ABC’s “Good Morning America” as one of the nation’s top three “must see” holiday displays. Since then, the number of lights have more than doubled.
“It has kind of taken on a life of its own, and I think it is like a snowball’s effect,” Taylor said. “You get so many people who are willing to help.”
Thirty-four choral and performing groups from more than 80 that applied will present one of the daily 30-minute shows, beginning at 7 p.m. They range from four flutists from Glendale to the Mesa City Band to the Highland High School Concert Choir from Gilbert. A 10-minute film about Christ’s nativity will be shown continuously inside the Visitor’s Center. The grounds are fully accessible to the disabled, and special bus parking is provided.