Festival of lights, the unmissable event in Lyon

The origin of the party 

Since the Middle Ages the city of Lyon has been venerating the Virgin Mary. In 1643 the south of France was affected by the plague. The city of Lyon then placed itself under the protection of the Virgin. The aldermen of Lyon, the provost of the merchants, and the notables vowed to pay homage to the Virgin each year if the plague ceased. As the epidemic ceased, the people kept their promise and paid homage to Our Lady every year.

From then on, a solemn municipal procession goes to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière from the Cathedral of Saint John every 8 September (and not on 8 December), the day of the consecration of the city to the Virgin, the day of the feast of her Nativity, to offer her candles and gold crowns: This is the Vow of the Aldermen.

December 8, the day of the feast of the Immaculate Conception, was chosen in 1852 to inaugurate the statue of the Blessed Virgin placed on the bell tower of the old chapel of Fourvière, which should have been inaugurated on September 8, but which was postponed for weather reasons. The rain came again; however, the Lyonnais, having waited three months, did not want to cancel the party and lit the candlesticks they had prepared.

First illustrations of 8 December 

In 1850, the authorities launched a competition for a statue of Mary to be placed on the top of the hill. Joseph-Hugues Fabisch’s project, presented by some notable Lyonnais and fervent Catholics and accepted by Cardinal de Bonald in 1850, won the competition.

In 1852, the statue of the Virgin Mary erected on the chapel of the hill of Fourvière was inaugurated. The inauguration was to take place on September 8, 1852, the feast of the Nativity of the Virgin and the anniversary of the aldermen’s vow of 1643. But, a flood of the Saône would have prevented it from being ready that day and that the ceremony would take place. The archdiocese, in agreement with the lay commission, then chose to postpone the inauguration to December 8, 1852.

Now, December 8 is the date of the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin, celebrated since the ninth century, although the proclamation of the dogma dates only from 1854. In the days leading up to the inauguration, everything is in place for the festivities: the statue must be illuminated by Bengal fires, fireworks are planned from the top of the hill and brass bands will play in the streets. Lyon Catholic notables propose to illuminate the facades of their houses as is traditionally done for major events (royal entrances, military victories, etc.).

But on the morning of 8 December, a violent storm struck Lyon. The master of ceremonies immediately decided to cancel everything and to postpone the night festivities to the following Sunday. Then, finally, the sky clears, and the Lyonnaise population who had waited so long for this ceremony, with a spontaneous gesture, illuminates its windows, descends into the streets and a few Bengal fires lit in haste illuminate the statue and the chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Foviere (the basilica does not yet exist). Les Lyonnais sing hymns and shout «Vive Marie!» until late at night.

A tradition: Candlesticks on the edge of a window. 

Since 1852, the feast has been renewed every year. Tradition has it that every family living in the part of Lyon illuminated on December 8 keeps with its Christmas decorations, its assortment of glasses of December 8, thick and sometimes colorful. These candle-topped glasses are called “candles” or “lampions”. From November onwards, these famous short and fluted candles, as well as assortments of glasses, can be found in the stores. On the evening of December 8, the candles are lit and placed in the glasses placed on the edge of the windows.

With the municipality of Michel Noir in 1989, the spontaneous festival is accompanied by highlights of certain monuments, then from 1999 by more important animations proposed by the municipality and the professionals of the show. These animations have a contemporary character that resides either in the concept or in the realization of the ephemeral work starting from tradition. Parts of the city center, they now touch all the neighborhoods of the city. As a result, this festival has also taken on a tourist character, attracting several million visitors every year. However, popular participation is still very present due to the illuminated facades and strolls on the evening of 8 December.

Exceptional attendance in the metro during the Festival of Lights (here in Bellecour in 2006).

However, despite the Lyonnaise population’s attachment to tradition, the windows with their candlesticks are in fact a minority today. One reason for this is that the institutional holiday would cast a shadow over tradition.

The celebration continues to grow and the presence, in recent years, of renowned national and international designers illustrates the growing international influence of this event.Extended over 4 days since 1999, Lyon 8 December – Fête des Lumières animates all the neighborhoods that predate 1930 and urban planning creating high-rise housing. It offers in the city innovative and surprising scenographies and light shows, or quite traditional on sites that may be unusual. The link between the relationship of the city of Lyon and China (silk) is thus expressed for example in 2013 at the Parc de la Tête d’Or by traditional Oriental lights and candlesticks.

Heavent Sud, the trade fair of the event, organized, on March 29, 2007 at the Palais des Festivals de Cannes, the first edition of the trophies of the event. The Fête des Lumières was awarded the “Best General Public Event 2006” trophy.

In 2010, 3 million people took to the streets of Lyon for the Festival of Lights. In 2012, 4 million visitors admired the Festival of Lights city.

Because more and more tourist event, the Festival of Lights attracts millions of visitors from all countries every year, which makes it probably one of the four biggest festive gatherings in the world, in terms of attendance (after the Kumbh Mela, the Rio Carnival and the Munich Oktoberfest). This celebration is distinguished by its popular aspect associated with an artistic scope for contemporary arts, plastic arts and music.

For the first time in its history, the 2015 Lyon Festival of Lights is threatened with cancellation as of 14 November 2015 for security reasons due to the tragic events that occurred in Paris during the attacks of 13 November 2015. This cancellation is confirmed on November 19, 2015 during a press conference with the mayor of Lyon Gérard Collomb and the prefect of the Rhône Michel Delpuech; the festivities are replaced by a tribute to the victims of the Parisian attacks, through the traditional installation of candlesticks on the windows.

Blue-White-Red Lights

Tribute to the victims with French-coloured candlesticksTraduire un document

Although the Festival of Lights is cancelled for the 2015 edition, several demonstrations were authorized by the prefect, including the tribute to the victims but also the procession and torchlight ride to the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière which takes place every year. Les Lyonnais were invited to pay tribute to the victims of the attacks of November 13, 2015 in France, to place candlesticks on their windows, what many of them did before but the tradition was lost for several years because of the departure of many Lyonnais because of the many tourists coming to attend this event. The public lighting in the city centre was turned off to admire the many illuminated windows. The diocese is also launching the operation for December 7 and 8.”

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