Turnout was low Friday evening, when Temple Square’s traditional Christmas lights switched on for the first time this holiday season, but the visitors who showed up said they enjoyed the scaled-down experience.
In past years, large crowds have gathered in and around the iconic square in downtown Salt Lake City to soak in the glowing lights. This year, the coronavirus pandemic — coupled with ongoing renovations at the Salt Lake Temple of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — prompted church officials to close the square to the public.
Much of the square is blocked by a construction fence, but the temple lights can still be seen at several locations around the perimeter. A clear view of the temple and the gold and red lights on the trees surrounding it can be found at an overlook on State Street.
Passersby paused to take in the lights as they walked down State Street. Families and couples rotated through the area Friday evening to take photos and snap selfies. No more than two dozen people gathered at the same time.
“It is absolutely gorgeous,” said Salt Lake City resident Bobbi Burton.
It was “well worth coming” to see the lights, Burton added, even though the area was “kind of a ghost town.”
Burton put a positive spin on the square closure. She said people should come take photos to show their descendants they were in Salt Lake City when the temple was being renovated.
Julia Alpert stopped by the State Street lookout with her children and father. She said the experience wasn’t as good as when people can stroll inside Temple Square but is still a sight to behold.
Marcio Galhardo, who goes every year, said the lights were beautiful.
“We miss [seeing] everybody together, but we need to be very careful,” said his wife, Ligia Galhardo. “Next year, we can do it again.”
Greg Best said the area was “pretty dead” but that his family wanted to see the lights to carry on their annual tradition.
In addition to the lights, groups of Latter-day Saint female missionaries sang Christmas carols while wearing face masks at different locations around the square.
As Utah grapples with an alarming spike in coronavirus cases, the church encouraged those walking around the square to wear masks and practice social distancing.