250,000 tiny bulbs turn temple yard into a fairyland at night

December 04, 1992|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff Writer

With the turn of a key, fairyland came to light.

When 250,000 tiny bulbs were lit at the Mormon Temple in Kensington Tuesday night, diplomats and religious leaders followed a golden path through a shining wonderland, twinkling with illumination.

More than 300 guests attended the Festival of Lights at the Washington Temple Visitors Center, a few hundred feet from the temple itself. They came to hear the 141-voice Mormon Choir of Washington, along with a 15-year-old guest violinist and a mezzo-soprano from the Metropolitan Opera. They came to enjoy 15 10-foot decorated Christmas trees, four of them representing foreign countries.

But the real lure was the blur of lights, framing the temple's six white spires against a winter sky.

Outside the visitors center, guests who did not have invitations to the indoor festival watched the glitter of gold lights on trees and bushes, accented by smaller blue, green and pink lights.

"We come every year," said Jeff Kromer, visiting with his wife Sara and four children. "You know how people say the temple looks like Oz from the Beltway? Well, the lights make it seem even more like some castle from a fairy tale. The kids really love it."

Inside, the choir stood in front of an eight-foot Italian marble statue of Jesus and sang hymns such as "O Holy Night," while moderator Beverly Campbell told the audience that "the lights are our gift to the nation's capital . . . a symbol of the light brought to Earth by the Christ child."

The lights were lit precisely on schedule at 7:50 p.m. to a loud chorus of "ahhhhhs," with guests enjoying the show through the center's glass wall. But nobody was more pleased than two men loitering outside in the cold.

They weren't members of the Church of Jesus Christ of `f Latter-day Saints, explained Larry Ellis and Eric Markhan. The two are employed by Mid-Atlantic Horticulture, and they have worked for nearly three months to string and wire the quarter of a million lights.

"It feels good," said Mr. Ellis, eyeing his handiwork. "It's absolutelyexhilarating to see them all lighted up and going."

Mr. Markham had another job in mind. "Now we have to think about taking them down," he groaned.

But not yet. For a month, the lights, which cost the Mormon Church several thousand dollars yearly to install and maintain, will draw crowds from the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area.

"All the lighting is purchased, so it's just a matter of replacing bulbs," said public affairs manager Myrna Wahlquist.

Last year, an average of 4,000 visitors per evening come to gawk at the Christmas lights, live Nativity scene and international Christmas displays, she said.

The display opened to the public last night and continues through Jan. 3. Until Dec. 31, the display will be accompanied by musical performances broadcast over the loudspeakers every night at 6:30, 7:30 and 8:30. The lights go on each evening at 5:30 p.m. and go off at 10.

Guests are welcome to roam the grounds and enter the Visitors Center, said Ms. Wahlquist, but the temple itself is not open to the public.

Regular Sunday services are held at Mormon chapels, and the temple is used only for special ceremonies such as baptism and marriage. To enter, one must have a "Temple Recommend," which certifies that the person is a member in good standing with the church, tithing a full 10 percent of their income and remaining faithful to their spouse.

Visitors who seek to avoid the massive crowds that jam the Beltway near Connecticut Avenue during the Festival should consider going between Christmas and New Year's Day, Ms. Wahlquist said.

Jeff Kromer was one local who wasted no time. The minute the lights went on, he and his family walked a few blocks from their home to the temple.

"It's like another world, walking through here," he said. "It gets you in the Christmas spirit."

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