Salt Lake Temple Square will be lit up for the holiday season, but its gates will be closed

(Chris Detrick | Tribune file photo) Visitors look at Christmas lights on Temple Square Friday, November 24, 2017.

Another holiday tradition is giving way to COVID-19.

While hundreds of thousands of lights again will glisten on Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City, visitors will not be able to stroll the grounds, often with bundled-up little ones. Instead they will have to bask in the glow from surrounding roads and sidewalks, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday.

The lights are ready and will be switched on every evening after Thanksgiving, but “the plaza will be fenced off and the gates will be closed,” a news release stated, “with no public access to Temple Square.”

As Utah grapples with an alarming spike in coronavirus cases and with statewide mask mandate in place, the church also encouraged those walking around the square to wear face coverings and practice social distancing.

The Utah-based faith also said that the traditional yuletide lights kickoff event, normally held in the Tabernacle at Temple Square, will be virtual and be broadcast Dec. 1 at 6 p.m. MST at ChurchofJesusChrist.org.

“The virtual celebration of the Savior’s birth will be different than what visitors to Temple Square have experienced in the past,” the release added, “but organizers say it will once again be a beautiful and inspirational experience.”

The annual holiday light tradition started in 1965 and draws tens of thousands of tourists and locals each year.

Public access to Temple Square has been limited since spring, when the coronavirus pandemic struck Utah, even as extensive renovation work on the iconic Salt Lake Temple continues.

Those hoping to see seasonal lights at temples in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles — they will be turned on after Thanksgiving — will have to view them from inside a vehicle, the church said.