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Gateway kicks off holidays with S.L.'s first tree lighting of the season

SALT LAKE CITY — With Thanksgiving just ahead, downtown Salt Lake City didn’t quite look like Christmas is only a few weeks away. But as of Saturday evening, that holiday feeling is beginning to take hold.

Just after 7 p.m., following the grand countdown — 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 — the ceremonial switch was flipped as the city’s first official holiday lights illuminated the Olympic Legacy Plaza at the north end of The Gateway shopping and family entertainment center. About 150 people cheered and snapped photos of a giant Christmas tree that stands in the grassy area of the plaza.

The display included a live 55-foot tall tree brought in on a flatbed semitrailer from Idaho, explained Sheldon Lyons with Brite Nites lighting design company, who set it up. The tree includes approximately 50,000 multicolored blinking LED lights and is adorned by 580 ornaments, he said.

“We put the tree up on Monday and basically worked nonstop on it until five hours ago,” he said with a laugh. The tree will remain in place until Jan. 2, he said, at which point will be dismantled and “chopped up for firewood,” Lyons added.

In the meantime, the display will be operational daily for all to see and enjoy, he added. For many of those in attendance for the lighting ceremony, it was a treat to behold.

“Seeing a big, huge tree with lights is really exciting for her,” said Clearfield resident Niki Reeder, speaking of her 4-year old daughter who was awestruck by the massive display. From her own perspective, Reeder said the arrival of the holidays often brings the best out of people — which she can appreciate.

“People are a lot nicer,” she said. “Sometimes adults are a little bit more generous, patient and kind.”

She added that remembering the spiritual element of the holidays is also a key component to celebrating this time of year, along with avoiding commercialism that has become so prevalent over the years.

For Utah County resident Nathan Eldridge, his family happened upon the lighting ceremony after visiting Discovery Gateway Children’s Museum. The father of two said hopes to teach his 8- and 10-year-old children a lesson about sharing this holiday season.

“I want my kids to take some of the stuff they’ve got and give it to less fortunate kids,” he explained. “I don’t want Christmas to always be about what they are going to get. I want them to see how important it is that everybody gets something.”

Eldridge also noted that his year, he hopes that people in Utah take the time to recognize the inherent value that everyone possesses, no matter who they are.

“With all the different problems that we face throughout the year, it’s important to remember to put them aside when it comes to humanity,” he said. “Regardless of whom you voted for (in the presidential election) or regardless of where I work or you work, sometimes you have to put that aside and remember that you’re a person and I’m a person and that doing good and spreading love between one another is really what matters most.”