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Let S.L.'s yule season begin!

Santa and Mrs. Claus look at a Meier \& Frank candy window downtown. The windows will be officially unveiled tonight.
Santa and Mrs. Claus look at a Meier \& Frank candy window downtown. The windows will be officially unveiled tonight.
Michael Brandy, Deseret Morning News

Christmas spirit will flick on today as downtown Salt Lake lights up its holiday decor, some areas with full festivities and some with a little less fanfare.

The annual holiday lights will be switched on by the Downtown Alliance during a "Lights On!" celebration at 5 p.m. today. Rep. Jim Matheson will host the countdown to the lighting ceremony in front of the Meier & Frank on Main Street.

Holiday shop windows designed by artist Michael Lee will also be unveiled today. The Studio A Choir will kick off the celebration at 4:30 p.m. with performer Rebecca Croft.

The festivities, sponsored by the Downtown Alliance and the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce, will culminate with the lighting of a Christmas tree at The Gateway and the arrival of Santa Claus.

This year, The Gateway's 30-foot giant blue spruce has a special meaning behind it — the tree was planted 27 years ago in honor of 17-year-old Matt Hansen, who was killed in a car accident.

"We had some friends that planted it for us. We had no idea it would get so big," said Gene Hansen, Matt's father. "The whole thing involves a lot of ties. . . . We're just happy it could be used this way."

The tree now sits by The Gateway fountain, decorated with large ball-shaped ornaments and brightly colored bows.

"We had mixed feelings about cutting it down," said Jeanine Hansen. But, "This was a gift to them."

Heather Nash, director of marketing at The Gateway, said last year, close to 3,000 to 4,000 people attended the free lighting festivities. But the story behind the 2005 Christmas tree makes it a unique lighting ceremony.

"Everyone that was involved really took heart (to the story)," she said. "Not only is it great and beautiful but we haven't had a blue spruce before."

This will be the fourth-annual Christmas celebration at The Gateway.

The Gallivan Center will also be lighting its "winter wonderland of lights" at 6 p.m. today accompanied by a performance by the Choral Arts Society of Utah and West Valley Symphony Choir.

While those lights will kick off with some fanfare, the lights adorning Temple Square will start coming on around dusk today but will not be accompanied by any celebration.

Competition with other festivities and public safety issues with large crowds prompted the end of the annual lighting ceremony, director of church headquarter facilities Brent Roberts said.

"We will try to correspond some of our lighting with the downtown ceremonies," Roberts said. "Since we've redone Main Street and we light that, we get a lot of people downtown. Friday's a busy night."


E-mail: estewart@desnews.com; astowell@desnews.com