The city will be aglow Christmas Eve with the flickering light of burning candles in Alpine's version of an old Spanish tradition to re-enact Mary's and Joseph's search for lodging in Bethlehem.

At least 25,000 lighted candles, set along streets and driveways in sand-filled paper bags, will transform Alpine into a city of lights. Alpine's third annual "Light the Way" commemorates the birth of Jesus Christ, said Lana Kemp Smith.Three years ago, Smith and Cathy Larsen wanted to find a quiet, peaceful way for families and neighbors to celebrate Christmas. Larsen saw luminarias in a Pennsylvania township several years ago and thought it could help unite the small northern Utah County town.

"We just felt like in all the rush to get so much stuff that people hardly got to know their neighbors," Larsen said. They also thought the "true meaning of Christmas" often gets overlooked in the holiday rush.

"We wanted to do something to bring us home, not only physically but spiritually and emotionally," said Smith, who moved to Alpine from Los Angeles four years ago. "We've heard comments about it really lifting the spirits of people who see it."

The 12-member committee that organizes the one-night event hasn't publicized it much outside of Alpine, although it attracts people from throughout the county. Alpine likely is the only town in Utah to decorate with luminarias on a citywide basis.

"It wasn't our intent to draw people to a gala event. It was to bond as a community and light the way for the Savior," Smith said.

Word of Alpine's new tradition is spreading. Smith has received telephone calls from several other cities that are interested in lining streets with candles. Smith said she welcomes the inquiries.

"We would love to see all of Utah lit and saying the same thing to the rest of the world," she said.

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Alpine might be the perfect place for luminarias. The small community is nestled in mountains of northern Utah County. There's only one way in and out of town. And the city's civic-minded and religious residents are enthusiastic about taking part. About 70 percent of Alpine's 1,157 households this year - up from 50 percent in 1993 - ordered the $7 luminaria kit, which includes 32 candles, paper bags and sand.

"Our goal is to have everyone in Alpine participate," Smith said. Alpine City buys luminarias for City Hall, the city park and other city property.

Two years ago, Larsen said, only two houses on her street were illuminated with candles; last year every house was. It's a project the whole family can participate in. "I have teenage boys. They just get a great kick out of it," she said.

Five Boy Scouts working on Eagle projects and three LDS Church girls earning Laurel medallions were an integral part in putting the event together.

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