This post was most recently updated on November 17th, 2018
Temple Square is at the heart of Salt Lake City, nestled between the Wasatch Mountains and the Great Salt Lake. While Temple Square is rated one of the top ten attractions in Salt Lake City year-round, there’s no better time to go than at Christmas! In fact, I would venture to say it’s just not Christmas without a Temple Square visit.
Why? Let me show you!
More lights than anyone can count
At the first lighting of Temple Square in 1965, it is documented that the head gardener hung 40,000 lights. In 1997, there were 800,000 lights. Now, there’s too many to count, but I’m betting it’s safe to say there are over a million lights! One tree alone, the Lebanon tree, has over 75,000 red lights on it, but is only lit every other year to preserve the life of the 75-year old tree. There are so many lights, it takes four months to prepare. The day after Thanksgiving, Temple Square explodes into a stunning and brilliant wash of color and light!
There are lights on trees, shrubbery, and in garlands along walkways throughout Temple Square, creating a literal wonderland of light, that inspires awe among all who see it. But the lights are not there to remind viewers of Christmas. The millions of lights you see on Temple Square are a reminder of our Savior, Jesus Christ, the very real Light of the World.
You’ll actually see more than one nativity on Temple Square, but the main one is life-size and is displayed between the Tabernacle and the north visitor’s center. You can view the nativity while listening to the Christmas story from the scriptures. It really helps to remind us of the miraculous events surrounding Jesus’ birth.
You can also see another beautiful nativity sculpture on the reflection pool in front of the temple, along with floating lights on the water.
Christmas at Temple Square provides many music performances to enhance your experience. Local groups from schools, church choirs, and bands perform every day at several venues: the Joseph Smith Memorial Building, the North Visitors’ Center, the Assembly Hall, the Tabernacle, the Church Office Building, and even the Family History Library. For a schedule of these performances, click here.
And then there’s the Tabernacle Choir’s Christmas Concert. HELLO?! That’s THE Tabernacle Choir I’m talking about — arguably the best choir in the United States, if not the entire world. Tickets are free, but must be reserved ahead of time. If you haven’t already reserved a ticket, don’t dismay. Click here to see how you can still experience their amazing Christmas concert. One way is to get standby tickets the night of the performance.
I can attest that this works, because I just happened to be on Temple Square once after a December wedding on the day of a concert performance. When I asked what the line was all about, an usher told me to go ahead and get in line if I wanted to attend (the line was already moving towards the Conference Center). My mother, my husband and I jumped in line and were seated within five minutes. I still get emotional when I think of what an amazing Christmas concert it was – with the choir, guest performers, dancers, and amazing sets. Nothing brings the Christmas spirit better than beautiful Christmas music!
The Joseph Smith Memorial Building
You might want to include a visit to the Joseph Smith Memorial Building during your Temple Square visit. This building used to be the Hotel Utah and has a gorgeous multi-story lobby with a spectacular crystal chandelier. Live music is often performed here, and at Christmastime, there is a huge Christmas tree that makes a great backdrop for family portraits.
You’ll also find the FamilySearch Center with hands-on help and interactive experiences, special event space, a chapel, three restaurants, and the Legacy Theater where you can view church movies free of charge.
It is worth noting that there is something special about each of the three restaurants. The Roof Restaurant offers a gourmet dinner buffet. It is on the top floor and has floor-to-ceiling windows looking out over Temple Square and the Salt Lake City Temple. The food is amazing! It’s a perfect setting for a special event, like a wedding proposal or a wedding anniversary. I should know, because I’ve been there for both. Yes, that is where my husband proposed to me!
The Garden Restaurant has water fountains, trees, flowers, Corinthian columns and a retractable roof. And yes, it also has great views of downtown Salt Lake City and Temple Square! I haven’t eaten here yet…maybe next time I’m in Salt Lake City!
The Nauvoo Cafe is on the ground floor and you can easily walk in for a quick bite or a steamy cup of hot chocolate. I’ve enjoyed their soups and salads, sandwiches, and their signature ice cream. Prices are very reasonable and they even have acoustic nights with musical performances — all free of course.
Miracles can happen at Temple Square
A few years ago, our family was in Utah for Thanksgiving. The day after Thanksgiving, my daughter needed to do some family history research for a college class. We drove to Salt Lake City to visit the Family History Center, and as we turned a nearby corner, my daughter exclaimed, “There’s Grandpa!” as she pointed out the window. (This “Grandpa” lived in the state of Washington). I was sure she was wrong, but sure enough, it was my father! Standing on the corner of the Conference Center block. I jumped out of the car and we enjoyed a joyful and unexpected reunion.
Our evening included strolling through Temple Square to see the lights and visiting the South Visitors’ Center for an impromptu piano concert by my daughter. You see, my father spoke to one of the volunteers and told her my daughter was an accomplished pianist. (This is true!) The volunteer then announced that she would be playing Christmas music for everyone’s enjoyment. A little embarassed, she stood up and played beautifully for the next 20 minutes, without any piano music. I couldn’t have been prouder or more grateful for our little Christmas miracle. I still tear up when I think of how we all arrived at Temple Square at the same time — from California and from Washington — without any of us knowing the other was traveling to Utah.
A little more about Temple Square
The entire 35-acre Temple Square complex belongs to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Everyone is welcome to come and enjoy all of the Christmas festivities, regardless of religious affiliation. You can also use the services of the Family History Center, visit the Church History Museum, or take a free tour. Underground parking is available at the Joseph Smith Memorial Building for a fee (or free with validation from one of the three restaurants). The entrance ramp is on South Temple.
What you should know
- Check out the Temple Square Christmas guide and schedule here.
- There is no charge to visit Temple Square, the Visitors’ Centers, the Tabernacle, or other church-owned buildings, like the Conference Center, Church History Museum or Family History Center. Did you catch that? It’s all free!
- It is very cold after Thanksgiving in Salt Lake City (between 19 and 34 degrees F.). For the best experience, bundle in layers. Mittens, scarves, and hats in addition to warm coats will keep you the coziest. Wear good walking shoes, too.
- If you want to get standby tickets for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir Christmas Concert (December 13-15, 2018), the line begins at the north gate of Temple Square. You will be seated in the Tabernacle (you don’t have to wait outside in the cold!). Patrons will be taken from the Tabernacle to the Conference Center to fill all empty seats there. The concert will also be shown live on a large screen in the Tabernacle.
- Temple Square lights can be seen from the day after Thanksgiving through January 2nd.
- Christmastime at Temple Square is truly magical. Take your entire family, feel the Christmas spirit, and make memories that will last a lifetime!
Definitely share this with all of your friends!