Anyone who’s traveled on the Beltway through Montgomery County has seen it: the spires of the Mormon Temple majestically towering over the trees and ascending into the sky above Kensington. Many a child has mistaken the sight for Cinderella’s castle or Oz’s Emerald City. This season at the temple is especially enchanting for children, as the grounds are lit up with more than 650,000 lights, and themed Christmas trees and nativity scenes from all over the world are on exhibit.
This year marks the temple’s 39th annual Festival of Lights, which is free and open to everyone.
The trees outside the temple are painstakingly decked out in a dazzling display of lights of all colors, and the temple is, as always, powerfully lit from the outside to showcase its soaring, imperial-looking exterior.
On their way to the Visitors’ Center, guests stream past the life-sized nativity scene, with many stopping for a closer look and to take pictures.
But inside is the real treat — scores of nativity scenes from around the world, including El Salvador, Estonia, Kenya, Mexico, Tibet, Brazil, Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Bolivia, Peru, Indonesia, Israel and more. Each set of figures is lovingly crafted out of a wide variety of materials, including carved wood, felted wool, glass, cloth and more. The Ukrainian figures are depicted as nesting dolls.
The line for this exhibit can get long, but it’s worth the wait.
The temple’s free nightly performances are also a huge draw. Still to come this month are choirs and choruses, dancers, concert bands, jazz and bluegrass groups and more. A full schedule is posted online. Performances are at 7 and 8:30 nightly through Jan. 1. Free tickets are given out starting one hour before each performance. They go quickly, so if seeing the show is important to you, get there early and be ready to wait in line. The parking lot at the Visitors’ Center can fill up, but the attendant can direct you to the overflow parking area.
The Visitors’ Center also features a number of Christmas trees decorated in a variety of themes, and an amazingly detailed scale model of the temple showing both inside and out. You can’t go in the temple if you’re not a member, so this is as close as many of us get.
You don’t need to be Christian or religious at all to enjoy the Mormon Festival of Lights. You need only be interested in history, beauty and craftsmanship.
Washington D.C. Temple Visitors’ Center, 9900 Stoneybrook Dr., Kensington, MD 20895; (301) 587-0144.