Time-lapse: Christmas visitors at San Diego Temple of LDS

The gleaming rocket ships off Interstate 5 and Nobel Drive are especially enchanting this time of year. Particularly the pristine gardens at their base.

Light display at San Diego Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo by Chris Stone

Perhaps the region’s best noncommercial display of Christmas lights is one surrounding the 22-year-old San Diego Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

“It’s a big undertaking,” Ken Carr says of the tradition in its seventh year. He serves as directer of grounds and lights within the Sights and Sounds of Christmas Committee. “More than 3,000 individual strings of lights totaling over 150,000 lights plus wreaths, stars and a Nativity are set up by 300-plus young adults (ages 18-30) from throughout the San Diego area.”

He estimates it takes 2,500 hours to create the magic at the 7.2-acre landmark, with work done Saturdays beginning in October and finished by late November in time for the official lighting the day after Thanksgiving.

Why do the Mormons work so hard on the lights and music at 7474 Charmant Drive?

“They do it to let their friends and neighbors know that they are Christian — that they believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior of the world and that He is the center of their religion,” Carr told Times of San Diego. 

Light display at San Diego Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Photo by Chris Stone

“They hope to provide a welcoming, peaceful and sacred environment for anyone who wants to come during this most spiritual of seasons.”

Workers used ladders, lighting poles and totes filled with lights and equipment, as well as hydraulic lifts, to complete the preparations for the display open to the public.

A seven-member executive committee starts in February with a review of what worked and what needs to be changed for the next season, says Carr, a Ramona resident who retired this year after 38 years as a middle school science teacher in the Poway Unified School District. 

“If changes or replacements are needed, orders are placed in March for summer delivery,” he says. “Lights are tested and sorted in midsummer in preparation for the October start of setup.  And they don’t just turn workers loose in October to start stringing lights.” 

The temple grounds are divided into 14 areas, with a lighting specialist overseeing each area, says Carr, 64. They are trained during the off months so they can be ready when the workers arrive.  The lighting specialists are the ones responsible for making sure their areas are set up properly.

The result is a colorful feast for the eyes, with families bringing children and hot chocolate to wander the grounds, sit in the courtyard near the temple entrance and otherwise appreciate the massive twinkling undertaking.

The grounds stay lighted through New Year’s Day.