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Mike Terry, Deseret News
Ellen Knell puts small Christmas lights on a tree that stands behind the grave of her daughter, Erica, at Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park Saturday

SALT LAKE CITY —Ten thousand candles illuminated the Wasatch Lawn Memorial Park and Mortuary Saturday evening in honor of the families served by the funeral home.

For the past 10 years, the annual Christmas Luminary has become a beautiful tradition, giving families a chance to gather and remember their loved ones during the holiday season— and members of the community to show honor and respect for people who have passed on.

"It's a way to celebrate Christmas," said Kathy Latimer of Salt Lake City as she lit candles to place near the headstones of her family members. "Lights are a part of many Christmas time traditions. It means hope. It's important to have light for Christmas."

Each year 150-200 volunteers from the community, churches and schools help prepare the white paper bags that house candles by filling them with sand and lining them throughout the park. An additional 150 volunteers come together to light the candles for the expected thousands who pass through to view the lights and pay their respects.

The beauty and reverence influenced by the silent lights offer comfort and healing, visiting families said.

This past July, the Searcy family lost their 4-year-old daughter.

"When we were inquiring about the place, they talked about the luminary. We have been counting down the days for it," said Chiya Searcy, of Salt Lake City. "We heard how spectacular it is. Coming today is so much more than words can say. It's very beautiful and peaceful.

"It shows that people do care, they do think about people at this time when they are struggling the most because they don' t have their loved ones. It's amazing up here. A light is lit here for somebody, and my little girl is one of those."

Visitors were also invited into the funeral home and provided Christmas cards in which to write messages of remembrance for lost loved ones. The cards were hung on a Christmas tree called the "memory tree."

Richard and Stacey Bettinson of Salt Lake City visited to honor and remember four of their family members.

"It's a wonderful tradition," Richard Bettinson said. "It's therapeutic, in a way. There is a healing when they do this. It's comforting to come here."

e-mail: hloftus@desnews.com