The Cedar of Lebanon (2013). Photo from Church Newsroom.
2. The first year of the Temple Square lights, arborist J. Leland Behunin spent six weeks of solo work to hang 40,000 lights—he didn't even have a ladder. An estimated 15,000 people came for the first lighting ceremony on December 9, 1965.
3. The well-known cedar of Lebanon,* one of the largest trees on Temple Square, boasts 75,000 red lights, but is only lighted every other year. This is done because each year it's wrapped, the delicate old tree gets needles and limbs knocked off during the wrapping and unwrapping process.
*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 tall.
4. Since 2009, the lights on Temple Square have been changing from incandescent lights to LED. The LED lights save on energy and money, consuming a fraction of the electricity that the incandescent lights would, and they are easier to maintain. They're also better for the trees because they don't produce as much heat as incandescent lights--which means less damage to the trees' structure and less bugs and disease.
5. The color theme of the lights is chosen to remind people of the Savior (the Light of the World)--not necessarily to remind them about Christmas. Jennifer Udy, a temple square gardener,explains that the temple lights are meant to be “in harmony with each other and with the Temple Square spirit.”
6. In the 1940s, the lights on Temple Square, even flood lights on the grounds, were turned off. Laura F. Willes, author of Christmas with the Prophets, shares: "I was almost horrified to read that Salt Lake was dark at night during WWII and that the temple wasn’t even lit up. And then to have the ceasefire announced and Heber J. Grant instructing to have the lights turned on again. He died only days after that.”
7. Later, in 1973, the Christmas lights on Temple Square were turned off again. This was in response to U.S. president Nixon's request to conserve energy during the energy crisis.
8. In 2002, the lights were left on throughout the Winter Olympic Games hosted in Salt Lake City. This was done to share the message of Christ with an even greater global audience.
9. Workers start putting up the lights in August every year, and it takes two and a half months to take them back down—which means the lights are on Temple square more than half the year. Though time-consuming, this is done because trees grow anywhere from 18 inches to 6 feet each year, and the lights used one year might not fit the tree properly the next.