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For 4 days each December, la ville de Lyon s’allume (the city of Lyon lights up) with a spectacular show of lights, lasers, and music. Called La Fête des Lumières (The Festival of Light), Lyon welcomes about 4 million people each year to see it. Sounds like an awful lot of visitors for some lights, but it’s well worth the trip! To be able to display your lights, you first need to be a winner in un concours (a competition). We’re not talking about amateurs here.
As with many traditions around this time of year, La Fête des Lumières has a histoire religieuse (religious history), but it doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas. Pendant le Moyen Âge (during the Middle Ages) when la peste (the plague) was rampant, Lyon promised to dedicate their city to The Virgin Mary if the city was spared.
In 1850, church leaders in Lyon were looking for some kind of centerpiece for the city. A local sculptor named Fabisch won le concours, and his statue of the La Vièrge (The Virgin Mary) was to be unveiled September 8, 1852. Malheureusement (unfortunately), the Saône River flooded, so the unveiling was pushed to December 8.
When December 8 arrived, a huge storm struck the city of Lyon. Alongside the unveiling of the statue, this date was already used as a celebration for the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. It was decided that, à cause de l’orage (because of the storm), the festivities would be cancelled. The citizens decided to light up their windows with candles, a tradition at the time to celebrate national victories or royal processions.
This nightly lighting continued to the 12th when the skies finally cleared. People flooded the streets singing songs of praise to La Vièrge. That night, the new statue at the Chapel of Notre Dame de Fourvière was finally unveiled to a happy public.
Et la tradition continue jusqu’à nos jours (and the tradition continues today).
People still put the lights in their windows (the specific candle type is sold in most stores starting in November). People still visit the statue. The lasers and music are new, of course. Throughout the whole city, lights are projected on buildings, rivers, and parks, and there are different looks each evening.
It’s really a very awesome site to see. The lights on the buildings are so accurate – look how the lights fix around the windows and doors perfectly. It’s a 3D show that uses the architecture as part of the design.
At the Place Bellecour, you’ll find a fountain with a ballet. At the St. John Cathedral, you can watch history come alive as it’s displayed on the church’s facade.
This year, the festival featured la plus grande boule à facette du monde (the biggest disco ball in the world). Check out the photo below.
The festival’s site has a few useful walking routes you can do to see certain lighting spectacles. There’s a lot of information on the site, so if you’re going next year, it’s worth un coup d’œil (a peek). It’s available in English, too.
Check out this video of the show at la Place des Terreaux from this past week.
Have you seen La Fêtes des Lumières? What did you think?