The History of the Christmas Lights on Temple Square

The History of the Christmas Lights on Temple Square

Christmastime at Temple Square really is the most magical time of year! As Temple Square is dressed in its Christmas best, covered with millions of sparkling lights, beautiful nativities and hopefully fluffy snow, a December visit is the perfect way to capture the Christmas spirit.

And while the lights are a real crowd pleaser, do you know how long ago this holiday tradition started? Or where the cedar of Lebanon came from? If you don’t, it’s time to learn. We’ve got everything you need to know about the history of the lights on Temple Square.

How the Lights Came About

The Christmas lights tradition started more than 50 years ago—back in 1965. But, the lights on Temple Square nearly didn’t happen. When Deseret News publisher E. Earl Hawkes first proposed the idea to LDS Church President David O. McKay, Temple Square’s head gardener was afraid the heat from the lights would be too harmful to the trees. After some debate, and some who say by the persuasion of his wife, President McKay decided to go ahead with it.

President McKay approved and oversaw the Temple Square Christmas lights and tree decorating project as it was referred to back then. He also chose arborist J. Leland Behunin to head the project, who spent six weeks by himself hanging 40,000 lights—without even having a ladder to use!

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