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Festival of Lights (Fête des Lumières) :: Lyon

December 18, 2009 by  
Category: Festivals


The month of December has many holidays that are held dear to those around the world. Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanza, Winter Solstice, and others each have their own special traditions. In Lyon, France, the 8th of December holds significance as a day to praise the Virgin Mary for sparing the town from the ravages of the Bubonic Plague in the mid-1600s. The Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) however, did not become an annual tradition until the mid-1800s when the citizens of Lyon spontaneously began lighting candles in their windows in anticipation of a much delayed celebration of a new statue dedicated to the Virgin Mother. The entire metropolis was lit within a span of two hours making for not only a glorious sight but the desire to repeat the spectacle for years to come. Modern custom still dictates that city dwellers light their windows with candles; however it has also become an opportunity for Lyon to showcase their beautiful landmarks with imaginative displays of light and color.

As the scale of the displays has grown, so too have the visitors to Lyon to see them. In the years since the first Festival of Lights in 1852, the celebration has developed into a four day festival; in part to accommodate the over four million visitors to the city. Yes the candles in the windows are still there; but now tradition dictates that the candles are coated in cinnamon and placed in clear or stained glass lamps. This visually spectacular journey is led by signs created by beams of light to help guide your way to the different landmarks. There are also small productions put on by locals to educate tourists about Lyon’s grand history. In fact the majority of the city is illuminated in various creative ways including several bridges that appear restructured by the light beams.

It will be hard to pick favorites with around 80 different formal light installations, a host of unique activities, and hotels, bars, and parks dedicated to hosting this magnificent exhibition. Although there is plenty to do and see, a lot of other people are going to be there to so plan ahead. Hotels fill up quickly so it’s probably best to book at least a few months in advance. Also, as the lights fill the entirety of France’s second largest city, stock up on a good comfortable pair of walking shoes and some mittens as the temperatures tend to be a bit brisk in December. But no matter how cold the temperatures get, your heart will be warmed by the public squares, buildings, monuments, bridges, and cathedrals which have been transformed into unbelievable illuminated works of art.

Rick Steves' France 2012
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