When the switch was flipped the day after Thanksgiving, hundreds of thousands of lights  illuminated Temple Square and some of them are energy-conserving LED (light emitting diode) lights. Within the next three to five years, all of the trees and greenery on Temple Square will be lit with LED lights.

The LED lights are low energy, according to Eldon Cannon, group manager for Temple Square’s Ground Services. “They do not use nearly as much electricity, and as a result we will be saving energy and saving costs.”

Compared to traditional incandescent lights, LED lights not only save energy but are cooler in temperature, protecting the trees from harmful heat.

The first tree going green is the famed cedar of Lebanon. Brought to Temple Square as a seedling by a woman who had come back from a trip to Lebanon, the tree was given to the head gardener and planted near the east gate. Seventy-five years later it stands at 70 feet, making it one of the largest trees on Temple Square.

Cannon said the LED lights on the cedar of Lebanon tree will create an interesting effect. “The lights are brighter at the tip-end than they are from the side. As you walk by this tree, it seems to have a blinking, shimmering effect with these new LED lights.”

The extensive process of decorating Temple Square and setting up the light display begins at the beginning of August and ends in March, when the lights are taken down. It is a stunning sight to see when the process is completed.

Electric cables, much like extension cords, are placed in the trees. The cables serve as the breath of life to the thousands of lights that cover the massive trees. Once the cables are placed, workers begin to wrap the strands of lights onto the trees branch by branch.

Visitors often wonder how to get their own Christmas lights to look like the ones on Temple Square. While it may be more painstaking and time consuming, each branch is wrapped individually. Wrapping the trees branch by branch is a special technique used by the workers on Temple Square to ensure the lights take on the tree’s natural form.

Once the trees are wrapped, Nativity scenes are carefully placed throughout Temple Square. Multiple Nativity scenes are placed throughout the grounds to provide visual representations of Jesus Christ’s birth. The oldest and most recognizable Nativity scene, featuring glossy white mannequins dressed as Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus, is one of the most popular on Temple Square.

Last year the figures of Joseph, Mary and the Christ child were placed in the middle of the Main Street Plaza reflecting pool, with the cows, sheep and shepherds on the neighboring lawns. Having the Christ child as the focal point in the reflecting pool invites viewers to place Jesus Christ at the center of their lives.

Smaller Nativities placed around Temple Square depict the birth of Christ from the perspective of other cultures. Representing a handful of different countries, these Nativities are favorites of children because they are child-size figures and they can get an up-close look.

Visitors will also find fabric and metal luminaries scattered throughout the grounds featuring messages of Christ. Volunteers hand-stenciled the fabric luminaries in many different languages with phrases about Christmas, peace and joy. The metal luminaries provide a visual representation of the life of Christ, with various scenes from Christ’s life that are carefully carved onto metal and eventually molded into the shape of a can. These fabric and metal luminaries can be seen lining the walkways and fountains on Temple Square.

The lights and displays began a number of years ago, when David O. McKay, president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and his wife, Emma Ray Riggs McKay, decided Temple Square should be decorated during the Christmas season as a way to tell the world that Latter-day Saints celebrate the birth of Christ. Beginning with a small display on the south side of the Tabernacle in the 1960s, the Temple Square lights and decorations have become a cherished tradition in the Salt Lake community.

The lights are turned on at dusk and turned off at 10 p.m. on Temple Square and 10:30 p.m. on the areas surrounding the square. The light display ends on New Year’s Eve.