Lyon is a capital city in France’s east-central regiion, located between Marseille and the capital city of Paris. On December 8 every year, Lyonnais (the term used to refer to Lyon residents) and those from other towns and cities in France enjoy one of the most awaited French events that take place in Lyon – the Festival of Lights.
The Festival of Lights in Lyon is a century and a half-old tradition, in which Lyonnais honor the Blessed Virgin Mary by placing candle lamps in windows of their homes. The occasion is made special by the fact that it comes very close to the Christmas season (although it really does not have any link with Christmas), to make people have the feeling that the vacations have already set in.
Actually, December 8 was not the intended date of the first holding of this “lighting” ceremony. Based on historical accounts, the religious leaders of Lyon organized in 1850 a statue-making contest. The statue to be made was that of the Virgin Mary, with the winning sculpture to be put up atop the Fourvière hill.
The winning sculpture was scheduled for unveiling a couple years later on the date the birth of the Virgin Mary is observed – September 8. Unfortunately on that day, the Saône river overflowed, flooding the entire area. Because of this, the organizers were forced to move the day of the public ceremony three months subsequent to December 8, which is the Immaculate Conception Day.
But the story did not end there. To celebrate the unveiling of the new statue, the people had planned to light candles inside their homes. On that rescheduled date, however, an extremely intense storm hit the city, and the ceremony’s date was moved anew four days later to December 12. The storm quickly passed though and in an act of thanksgiving, the people of Lyon proceeded with their organized lighting of candles on December 8. They then started going to the streets for celebration.
Touched by the people’s gesture, religious authorities also decided to light candles inside the chapel of Fourvière. From the streets, a spectacularly lighted view of Lyon can be seen, with the city illuminated from end to end. This event gave birth to the now very popular Festival of Lights in Lyon.
The modern celebration of the event is held for four days, from December 5 to 8. During this period, the whole of Lyon is illuminated through modern lighting techniques. The spectacular view of the city from external side allures hundreds of visitors from the neighboring cities and towns in France as well as from other countries. In fact, to find a hotel room for staying during this time is a very troublesome task.
Today, the French Festival of Lights in Lyon is not just an occasion for remembering the momentous events that took place more than one hundred fifty years ago in this city as recounted above. It now also serves as a forum for all cities, not just in France but in the whole world, to handle urban lighting and such other matters connected to it.