SALT LAKE CITY — Christmas lights first were put up around Temple Square, according to a 1997 article by Jerry Johnston, at the direction of LDS Church President David O. McKay. President McKay asked Irvin T. Nelsen, the Temple Square gardener, to put lights up everywhere. "President McKay," Nelsen said, "if we put lights in the trees, it will kill them."
"That's how I knew you were the man to do it," President McKay said. "You'll make sure the lights don't kill the trees."
Photo historian Ron Fox gathered some festive photos of Christmas past (see the full collection of photographs online at DeseretNews.com). The photographs show the celebration of the Christmas season in lights and also in music — from the Cathedral of the Madeleine to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir's annual Christmas concerts.
Nearly 15,000 people gathered on Thursday, Dec. 9, 1965 at 7:45 p.m. to see 40,000 Christmas lights turned on for the first "Lighting of Temple Square." President McKay did the honors: "Our minds tonight should be on the Babe of Bethlehem whose coming into the world Christmas morning reminds us all that we each should have in our hearts the love of Christ."
The Deseret News reported how "a mighty 'aah' of appreciation went up from the crowd as all the lights went on, followed by a burst of applause."
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir sang "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem," "Hark the Herald Angels Sing" and "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day." Then the crowd joined them in singing "Oh Come All Ye Faithful." The ceremony ended with the choir singing "Silent Night."
It was a night like many other nights during Christmas seasons to follow. Forty-five years later, crowds still flock to see lights downtown and to hear the Mormon Tabernacle Choir sing of a silent night.