8 Things You Didn’t Know About the Temple Square Christmas Lights

This article was used by permission from The Temple Square Blog, check out their blog for all kinds of information, activities and places eat at Temple Square

The holiday season is by far one of the most magical times of the year to visit Temple Square. The 35 acres completely transform the day after Thanksgiving every year, when the Christmas lights are lit for the first time for the holiday season. Coming to Temple Square to see the lights has become a tradition for locals, on top of attracting visitors from all over the world. Even though the lights are only up for about a month, the preparation for the holidays takes around 4 months! Check out below more things you didn’t know about the Christmas lights on Temple Square.

  1. The Christmas lights tradition on Temple Square started in 1965! President David O. McKay asked arborist J. Leland Behunin to spearhead the project of decorating the trees on Temple Square with Christmas lights. About 15,000 people came to the first “light ceremony” and President McKay himself pushed the button to turn on the lights. For the following 17 years, Behunin and his son Ben were the ones getting Temple Square ready for Christmas.
  2. The Mormon Tabernacle Choir gathered on the south side of the Salt Lake Temple in 1965 during the first lighting ceremony and sang holiday classics, while the “Amahl and the Night Visitors” Christmas opera, a classic Christmas tradition in the 1960s, was being broadcasted at the Tabernacle.
  3. The famous life-size nativity set was originally placed on the south side of the Salt Lake Temple. In 1967, it was moved to the lawn between the Tabernacle and the North Visitors’ Center, where it is still placed today.
  4. With the lack of tools and ladders, Leland and Ben Behunin had to get creative when it came to putting up the Christmas lights – climbing the trees and using a cherry-picking machine were their main options. Today, the workers use lifts (and cherry pickers!) to get the job done.
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  6. The Main Street Plaza opened in 2000, and in December of the same year, the reflection pool was decorated with Christmas lights inside crystal balls.
  7. The Cedar of Lebanon tree, by the east gates, alone has nearly 75,000 lights, but it’s only lit every other year so the lights don’t damage the tree. The beloved tree has been growing on Temple Square for the past 75 years, after a woman gave the seed to the grounds gardener – a seed she brought back from a visit to the Holy Land.
  8. The incandescent lights have been slowly replaced by LED lights since 2009, which use about a tenth of the amount of electricity.

It is unknown how many Christmas lights are actually up on Temple Square today. In 1967, there were about 40,000 lights to 100,000 lights, and about 800,000 lights 30 years later, in 1997.


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