"Wow!" was 13-year-old Tyler Bruener's reaction when the thousands of holiday lights strung throughout Temple Square suddenly flashed on at dusk Friday.
Unlike many of the hundreds of people gathered at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints site, Tyler had no idea what to expect at the annual ceremony because he and his family were visiting Utah for the first time, from their home in Orlando, Fla.
"It's pretty cool," he said as he took in the red, green, white, orange and even purple lights, alongside his 10-year-old sister, Trinity, and their parents. His mother, Marie, said the family chose Utah as a vacation destination because they wanted to see snow.
There wasn't any of the white stuff around Friday night, but the temperatures hovered near freezing as night fell. Tyler, dressed in just a sweatshirt, tried not to look cold. But Trinity shivered despite a pink parka and matching gloves.
Cold weather during the holidays was a novelty for Sylvia and Ron White, too. The couple traveled to Utah five months ago from their home near Brisbane, Australia, to serve an LDS Church mission in the Family History Library.
It's summertime now in Australia. "We have water fights and breakfast on the patio. This is different," Sylvia White said as she surveyed the decorations, which take months to put up. "It's overwhelming. It really is. It's beautiful."
There was no ceremony before the lights went on shortly before 5:30 p.m. "It was kind of abrupt. I was expecting a little bit more," said Blake Peterson of South Weber. His 6-year-old daughter, Libby, was a little surprised, too.
Wearing a pink hat emblazoned with the title, "Princess," and a matching fuzzy pink scarf, Libby explained that while she liked the lights, "especially the purple tree, I thought they would be on the temple and stuff."
Cynthia Belnap of Taylorsville, who has witnessed the lighting ceremony twice before, noted it was toned down this year. "It's less crowded but it may be the temperatures," she said.
Her daughter-in-law, Xiao Yu Fan Belnap, moved from China to Utah in June and has been surprised at how enthusiastically Americans greet the Christmas holidays, especially when it comes to shopping.
"People are more crazy than in China," she said after witnessing some after-Thanksgiving sales earlier in the day. "They're crazy and fighting each other." But as for the scene at Temple Square, Xiao Yu said, "It's cool."
There were fewer options this year for those downtown to get a start on holiday shopping after the ceremony. The downtown's two Main Street malls are being demolished to make way for the LDS Church's City Creek Center project.
The food court in the former ZCMI Center remains open but wasn't very busy early Friday evening. Only a handful of tables were filled with diners, and several food vendors said they didn't expect business to pick up despite the crowds at Temple Square.
Nearby, Ro Smith was trying to round up customers for horse-drawn carriage rides. "It's slow. Usually we have a line," she said after unsuccessfully pitching a half-hour ride for $50 to a family of four. "I don't know why."
Two members of the local band, "The Happies," strummed guitars just outside Temple Square and sang, "So This is Christmas," as passers-by took pictures. Only a few people tossed coins into their waiting guitar case.
That was all right with singer-guitarist Miles Biddulph. More important than the money made was staying warm, he said, pointing out layers of clothing, including two hats. "Besides the cold, it's fun," Biddulph said. "People are happy and they like singing along."Holiday lights were also switched on at other downtown locations, including those on a massive Christmas tree at The Gateway, on decorations at the Gallivan Center and along 300 South. Even the construction walkways on Main Street were decorated.