By Jill Adair | Digital Free Press
Hundreds of thousands of visitors are enjoying the sights and sounds of the season at Mesa Temple Christmas Lights, a free event which is spread throughout the north lawn of the Mesa Temple in downtown Mesa.
Stacey Farr, who has served as director since 2015, estimated at least 150,000 people came to see the lighting display in downtown Mesa during the opening weekend and Friday night, Nov. 25, was the largest she had ever experienced. “People are so excited to come see the Christmas lights back on the temple grounds.”
She said the event, which began in 1979, took a hiatus after 2017 when the temple and surrounding grounds were closed and completely renovated. The temple was rededicated December 2021, but the lights weren’t slated to return until this year.
“It is so nice to have the Christmas lights back after so many years,” said visitor Rick Tutt of Mesa on opening night. “I’ve never seen it this crowded.”
“There’s a wonderful spirit here,” said his wife, Floramae Tutt. “I love the nativity displays and the lights — everything symbolizes Christ.”
The event, which is sponsored by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, is open to the public and the lights are on nightly from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. through Dec. 31 at 101 S. LeSueur in Mesa.
More than just lights
In addition to lights, there are favorite biblical vignettes — including Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem and the Old Testament prophet Isaiah prophesying of Christ’s birth — scattered among lighted olive trees with QR codes that visitors can scan with their phones and be taken to online videos giving deeper insight to the scenes. Each vignette has its own audio system playing accompanying music and narration. There are larger-than-life lighted wise men and their camels on the north lawn. A near life-size Italian Fontanini nativity scene is displayed at the northwest corner of the temple with a newly designed star above the crèche, twinkling with 22,500 white lights.
The event – previously called one of the “must-see holiday lighting extravaganzas in the United States” by a national network television show – has drawn over a million visitors annually from across Arizona and far beyond to partake of the Christmas spirit on these lawns in downtown Mesa.
A volunteer-driven event
Event planners say it is one of the largest known volunteer-driven Christmas lighting displays in the country.
“It is our gift to the community,” says Ms. Farr.
She says she and other organizers of the event are grateful for the countless hours given by local volunteers to make this event possible, estimating approximately 3,000 volunteers of all ages help throughout the year and during the event to make it possible. Volunteers come from all across the Valley, including Scottsdale, Paradise Valley, Mesa, Tempe, Phoenix, Chandler and Queen Creek.
“The impact of these people – the time they graciously give – is tremendous,” says Ms. Farr. “They give and give weekly — in the (warehouse) building, on the grounds, and at home working on projects.
“It’s definitely a team effort,” says Ms. Farr.
International Nativity Exhibit is nearby
As the outdoors surrounding the Mesa Temple dazzle with hundreds of thousands of Christmas lights during the holidays, inside the Mesa Temple Visitors’ Center, across the street on the west side at 455 E. Main St., a unique display of nativities from around the world is also meant to brighten the community’s celebration.
The International Nativity Exhibit includes representations of Jesus Christ’s birth in all sizes — from miniature to several feet high; from a variety of mediums used to craft them — wood, copper, porcelain, metal, fabric, resin and natural items picked up by locals in remote areas of the world; and from every continent and various countries and cultures across the globe, including Tonga, Nicaragua, Madagascar, Japan, Costa Rica, France, Mongolia, Ghana and more.
According to Susan Fuller, who has been chair of the committee for the annual display since 2005, the event also returned this year in conjunction with the temple lights. There are 150 of these nativity scenes on exhibit in the multi-purpose room for the first time in the new visitors’ center, she says.
The nativity display is also open each evening 5-10 p.m. during the lighting event.
Mesa Temple Christmas Lights are also associated with Merry Main Street activities in downtown Mesa. Other events include Winter Wonderland Ice Rink, Visits with Santa, Mesa’s 40-foot-tall Christmas tree, Jack Frost’s Food Truck Forest, Gnome on the Roam, Holiday Happenings at the Mesa Arts Center, Mesa Santa Express and Mesa Christmas Market.