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BRIGHTEST CHRISTMAS EVER: LIGHTS ABLAZE AT WASHINGTON TEMPLE VISITORS CENTER

SHARE BRIGHTEST CHRISTMAS EVER: LIGHTS ABLAZE AT WASHINGTON TEMPLE VISITORS CENTER

This is the brightest Christmas season ever at the Washington Temple Visitors Center where 25,000 multicolored lights were added this year for the temple's 17th annual Festival of Lights. They bring the grand total to 300,000 lights.

The festival, which opened to the public Dec. 2, will continue through Jan. 2, 1995. A lighting ceremony was held Nov. 30 for the diplomatic community and the press. This year the lights were turned on by Elder Neal A. Maxwell of the Council of the Twelve, and the ambassador of Egypt, Ahmed Maher El Sayed. (See separate article on page 6.)Soaring above the Capital Beltway, the illuminated spires of the temple beckon all to come celebrate the Christmas season at the visitors center as did more that 200,000 visitors last year.

The Festival of Lights continues the tradition of celebrating the birth of Christ with musical performances from interfaith, school and community groups at the center. Groups scheduled to perform this year include The Ya Yin Chinese Chorus, Voices of a New Day, The Richmond Mormon Chorale, the Howard University Chorale, the Vienna-Falls Sweet Adelines, Hometown USA (an award-winning barbershop group), and The Jubilee Majestic Concert Choir.

The festival includes an outdoor Nativity scene with a live Mary and Joseph played nightly by one of three different young couples from Washington area wards. The baby Christ is so life-like that many visitors believe it is a real baby.

Inside the visitors center are 15 Christmas trees, each 10 feet tall, and all decorated in scriptural themes by 15 surrounding stakes. Eight of the trees depict the story of the Savior's birth as told in the New Testament. Christ's teachings from the scriptures are the theme for an additional three trees. The Columbia Maryland Stake, which decorated a tree for the first time, creatively depicted "treasures in heaven" with antique photos of family members and marriage certificates. Among the favorites are four international trees trimmed with dolls handmade by young women from local stakes.

In addition to the trees, an exhibit of international Nativity scenes is on display inside the center. This year's exhibit consists of nine creches from eight countries. Each year, the organizers of the exhibit select a Nativity from the lighting ceremony ambassador's country. The Nativity from Egypt selected this year was made by the faculty of arts of Cairo University. The figures of this Nativity are dressed in modern Egyptian clothing.

The exhibit also includes: a stylized natural wood Nativity from Finland; Santon figures, dressed in the traditional fabrics of Provence, representing an important part of French culture; a crystal Nativity from Germany; a Nativity of carved wood figurines from Jakarta, Indonesia; a Kenyan Nativity composed of banana fibers; a ceramic Nativity from Mexico done in the classical style; a folk art Nativity designed and created by a Virginia craftswoman; and an Aston-Drake Nativity scene depicting children putting on a Christmas pageant. This year the display was put together by Sharlene Bentley and Kerry Johanson.

Christmas and holiday films such as "Mr. Krueger's Christmas," starring Jimmy Stewart and featuring the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, are available for viewing as well.

"The festival is our gift to the community," said Elder Spencer Jenson, director of the Washington Temple Visitors Center. "I believe that the worth of the festival is apparent in the comment cards received by the center."

Following are a few of the comments from cards shared by Elder Jenson: "It was very beautiful. It makes Christmas more meaningful. I am in the `spirit' of Christmas now." - Beltsville, Md.

"I think the lights around are really amazing and the Nativity makes me believe I really participated in the birth of Christ."

"Thank you for the Christmas lights and community outreach, as well as your willingness to share with others of different faiths. We are of another faith but grateful for your faithful efforts." - Germantown, Md.

"I love the feeling I get when I come here. It gives me confidence that Jesus Christ is the Lord."

"I am visiting here. I have been to all the museums and shops and pretty places, but I have enjoyed this best. Love is great!" - Pennsylvania.

The Festival of Lights, the largest event of its kind in the Washington, D.C., area, provides an excellent opportunity for those whose knowledge of the temple is restricted to what can be seen from the Beltway to see the grounds and learn of the love of Christ shared by members of the Church. Many area residents, members and non-members alike, make the Festival of Lights one of their holiday traditions.