Lyon Festival of Lights
Festival of Lights, Lyon, France. ©Istock

The origin of this festival goes back to when the south of France was struck by the plague. In the mid 17th century, Lyon decided to place itself under the protection of the Virgin Mary. The population promised to pay an annual tribute to Mary if the city was spared. This celebration of the Virgin Mary turned into a festival of colour and lights in the mid 19th century.

The date of 8 December was chosen in 1852 as the day of the immaculate conception; it was the day on which a statue of Mary was supposed to be inaugurated on the bell tower of the Chapel of Notre-Dame-de-Fourvière. But on 8 December 1852, a storm ravaged the city, and the inauguration was officially postponed until the following Sunday. But the people of Lyon had been so eagerly anticipating this festival that they spontaneously lit candles in their windows and poured onto the streets. The statue of the Virgin Mary was hastily illuminated with flares. Ever since, the festival of lights has been held on 8 December. The people of Lyon celebrate Mary, watching over the city from her gold statue perched atop a tower at the Fourvière Basilica.

Today, the event is a popular festival during which locals place little lights on their windows, and the statue is illuminated with flares. Now every single building in the city is involved in the festival, making it a truly unforgettable event! Every year around 30 artists put on this renowned event, which has even toured outside of France.

Have you ever seen a phone booth transformed into an aquarium? Or witnessed a fierce battle on the Fourvière hill with the basilica on fire? Get ready, because every year, during the week of 8 December, Lyon is bathed in light, and every year the city benefits from greater creativity and innovation.