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Utah State History

Photos: A look at Utah's holiday lights throughout history

By Carter Williams, KSL.com | Posted - Dec 22nd, 2017 @ 2:33pm



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SALT LAKE CITY — Thousands of people gather each year to admire the holiday lights grandeur that can be seen across the state, from northern to southern Utah.

The holiday season is surely full of glorious sights. Holiday lights, itself, date back to the 1880s when a Thomas Edison associate came up with a safer solution to the candles people put on trees, according to the Smithsonian. That trend eventually made its way across the globe, including to Utah.

Utah’s tradition of dressing itself in holiday lights dates back decades. Businesses in downtown areas would hang lights and Christmas-themed decorations for all to see.

One of the state’s more popular displays, the Lights at Temple Square in Salt Lake City, dates back to Dec. 9, 1965. An article from the Deseret News recapped the first night some 40,000 lights were flipped on.

“President David O. McKay of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints touched a button that changed the trees and bushes into clouds of glowing pink, gold and blue lights,” wrote Deseret News staff writer Hal Knight. “A mighty ‘aah’ of appreciation went up from the crowd as all the lights went on, followed by a burst of applause for the obvious labor which had gone into the placing of each tiny bulb.”

It was estimated that 15,000 people visited Temple Square for the first event.

McKay briefly spoke at the event and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir performed several songs as part of a 20-minute program. A Christmas opera was also performed at the Tabernacle.

“The spectacle drew people of all kinds of ages and especially large numbers of children present,” Knight wrote. “Also attending the lighting ceremony were many General Authorities, and state, city and county officials.”

That tradition lives on to this day. In 2017, thousands again gathered at Temple Square for the first lighting of the season on Nov. 24. Much like the first event 52 years ago, it was met with a loud cheer and applause.

Here’s a look back at the evolution of holiday lights in Utah.

A Christmas tree with lights on it displayed outside of the Utah State Capitol as seen in this photo taken on Dec. 26, 1933. (Photo: Utah State History)
Auerbach's Department Store in Salt Lake City in a photo taken in 1935. (Photo: Utah State History)
A photo of Main Street in downtown Salt Lake City taken Dec. 17, 1946. (Photo: Utah State History)
An image of the Paris Company Department Store taken during Christmastime in the 1940s. (Photo: Utah State History)
A photo of the First Security Trust Company building with Christmas lights on it taken sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. (Photo: Utah State History)
A photo of the Granite Furniture Co. building with Christmas lights on it taken sometime in the 1940s or 1950s. (Photo: Utah State History)
A photo of Main Street in downtown Salt Lake during Christmastime taken in 1952. (Photo: Utah State History)

Temple Square lights in 1965

A photo from a practice run of Temple Square lights that was published in the Dec. 8, 1965 edition of the Deseret News. The first ever public display of Christmas lights at Temple Square was held the following night. (Photo: Deseret News Archives)
A photo from the first-ever display of Christmas lights at Temple Square taken on Dec. 9, 1965. (Photo: Utah State History)
A photo of the lights at Temple Square taken on Dec. 9, 1965. (Photo: Utah State History)

Temple Square lights in 2017

Carter Williams

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