KENSINGTON, Md. The twinkling glow of 450,000 lights illuminated the chilly night sky just outside Washington, D.C., officially kicking off the Christmas season for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints here.
"These lights are our holiday gift to the nation's capital," said Ann Santini, director of international affairs for the church.
The 30th annual Festival of Lights at the Washington, D.C., Temple visitors center started Wednesday night with an audience-aided countdown that set off blue, purple, red and white sparkles throughout the temple grounds.
President Boyd K. Packer, acting president of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of the LDS Church, offered a special Christmas message and blessing to the roomful of ambassadors, members of Congress and other guests.
Packer, who has 10 children, 60 grandchildren and 50 great grandchildren, said his large family seems like 5,000 people during the holidays but he hoped "we can have that little kid feeling again about Christmas."
The Ambassador of the Republic of Indonesia, Sudjadnan Parnohadiningrat, said this year marks his second Christmas in the United States and he has learned the "slogans" that go along with the season, including "peace on earth."
Parnohadiningrat, who is Muslim, said he believes peace on earth is "not only possible but imperative."
"I believe we can make peace on earth more than just a slogan," he said.
The atmosphere inside the visitors center was certainly peaceful as soprano Lisa Hopkins Seegmiller and the Mormon Choir of Washington, D.C., sang Christmas carols for the audience and even led the children in attendance in a round of "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer."More than 250,000 visitors will come see the display during December. In addition to the light display, which takes 700 volunteers four months to construct, area choirs and musicians will come to perform through the season.