SALT LAKE CITY — Black Friday turned white, green and red at dusk as over a million Christmas lights switched on in downtown Salt Lake City.
Gov. Gary Herbert and other local dignitaries pushed a switch at 5:25 p.m. outside EnergySolutions Arena, lighting up LED bulbs throughout downtown. The governor said he was honored to take part in the decades-old tradition and reminisced about bringing his family from Utah County to it in years past.
He also urged the roughly 100 people at the "Lights On" event to let it "kick start us to remember 365 days a year to make this an even better state than it already is."
The event included performances by the One Voice Children's Choir and former Utah Jazz player Thurl Bailey, now a musician and motivational speaker.
Referring to efforts to revitalize downtown and gesturing toward the cranes of the City Creek project, City Council chairman J.T. Martin said, "There are not many towns in this country right now celebrating like we are."
Jason Mathis, executive director of the Salt Lake City Downtown Alliance, said Rocky Mountain Power is using 100 percent wind energy through its Blue Sky program to power the downtown lights.
Down the street from the arena, thousands of people meandered through Temple Square, enjoying the first night of the annual lights display.
Craig and Barbara Heffelfinger have come down with their children from Twin Falls, Idaho, almost every year for the last 13 years to see the lights.
"It's something they've learned to have respect for. They've really gained a testimony for what Temple Square is," Barbara Heffelfinger said. "It's been a good family unity opportunity."
David and Lynne Senske of Salt Lake City come every year to see their favorite nativity scenes and to check out what's new around on Temple Square.
"It's the excitement of the Christmas season," David Senske said. "This starts everything. It gets everybody in the mood."
The sight of the lights and the crowd they attracted even brought a small measure of comfort to Richard Douglas, 55, who has lived without a home or a job in the Salt Lake area for the past year. The former railroad worker, truck driver and janitor was holding a cardboard sign at the south entrance to the square, asking for help.2 comments on this story
"It's beautiful," he said, adding, "I just came down here to try to make a few bucks. I don't think anybody would hire me right now."
Friday marked the start of the Old Christmas World Market in the Union Pacific depot at The Gateway, modeled after traditional European Christmas markets and featuring local vendors and artisans. It runs through Dec. 4.
Mathis also noted downtown businesses can participate in the "Window Wonderland" competition with storefront displays. Shoppers can vote for their favorite at www.downtownslc.org.