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Ravell Call, Deseret News
Visitors enjoy the Christmas lights near Temple Square in Salt Lake City on Friday, Nov. 24, 2017.

SALT LAKE CITY — A dramatic sunset and unseasonably warm weather set the backdrop for the thousands who gathered downtown Friday evening for the annual lighting of the holiday lights at Temple Square.

Anders Wilson, a Wyoming resident, said he'd been attending the event for years and couldn't remember it ever being so warm for a lighting ceremony.

"I usually bring my grandkids down and we go out for hot cocoa afterward," Wilson said. "Tonight we might be getting ice cream."

Lighting up the trees on the 35 acres of landscaping at Temple Square first began in 1965 under the leadership of LDS Church President David O. McKay.

For the first ceremony, arborist J. Leland Behunin single-handedly hung the 40,000 lights for an event that was attended by 15,000 and included the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performing holiday music.

Today, hundreds of volunteers pitch in with the work, though the church hasn't kept count of the lights since 1997, when it took 800,000 bulbs to mark the start of the holiday season.

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Jill Terrence and her friend Liz Bennett were hanging out near the reflecting pool on the east side of the square before the lights came Friday. Terrence said she misses the days when there was a countdown to the lights coming on, but she still loved the moment of surprise when the multicolored displays came to life.

"For me, this sorta marks the official beginning of getting ready for Christmas," Terrence said. "We've been shopping all day today, and this is a great way to finish."

For those interested in visiting Temple Square to see the holiday lights, the displays are on from 5:30 p.m. until 10 p.m. nightly, except Dec. 14-16, where the lights remain on until 11 p.m. for the Tabernacle Choir Christmas concerts, and on New Year's Eve, when they stay on until 12:30 a.m.