La Fête des Lumières, or The Festival of Lights is an annual event held in Lyon, the third biggest city in France after Paris and Marseille. The 4-day festival consists of professional light shows and other activities; the festival gives thanks and honors the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ, Son of God, on December 8th (the peak if the festival) each year. La Fête des Lumières originated in 1643, when the city of Lyon was spared from the deadly Bubonic Plague. As a result, the municipal councillors organized a candle-lighting procession to the Basilica of Fourvière, which sits on top of a small mountain overlooking the city, in order to give thanks and honor the Virgin Mary For protecting the city from illness.
In this day and age, the Lyonnais people place candles along the outsides of all their windows on their houses on December 8th in order to produce an illuminating effect throughout the streets. This festival is one of the three biggest events in the world, after the Rio Carnival and Oktoberfest in Munich.
This past weekend, I was lucky enough to experience this amazing city festival with some of my new friends! I went with a friend from France, Spain, and England! It was a great group and we had a wonderful time together. This was my first time to this city and to this part of France in general. Our French friend was even kind enough to drive us. We left Friday afternoon and trekked to our French friend’s cousin’s house, where we indulged in leftover Beaujolais wine and a very fancy Lyonnais supper. The next day, we switched lodging locations and made our way to his great-aunt’s house, who lives about ten minutes from the city by bus, and has a great view of the city from her apartment!
By mid-Saturday afternoon, after a long, but fulfilling lunch, we were in the city, which was just beginning to become lively! We began our journey in Le Parc de la Tête d’Or, one of Europe’s largest national parks, where we visited the famous zoo and got to see the Chinese light display during the daytime (Lyon is well-known for its Chinatown). Then, we headed into the city center. The city of Lyon is built around two rivers, Le Rhône and Le Saône, so there are many bridges connecting the various quartiers, or neighborhoods. After meeting up with our French friend’s two best friends, as well as our German friend from Toulon (we were quite the international group!) we first came across the main square in Lyon, Place des Terraux, which houses the famous Barrtholdi Fountain. This fountain was designed by Fredéric-Auguste Bartholdi, who also constructed the Statue of Liberty. Then, we made the trek to the top of Basilique Notre-Dame de Fournière, where we were able to get magnificent views of the city as well as view the inside if the church. At the top of this monument also sits a display of lights which reads, «Merci Marie» or “Thank you, Mary!” (*Side Note* Curiously enough, France is a secular country, and prides itself on being Laïc. Yet, is perfectly appropriate and not biased to celebrate and spread a Christian message across a city for four consecutive days. However, it is also completely appropriate to ban the burka in schools and the veil in public. Thoughts!? My friends Lauren from Nîmes and Amanda from Hyères point out the same thing.)
Afterwards, we then made our way back down the hill and had dinner in a typical Bouchon restaurant, which is typical cuisine in Lyon, and consists of most fatty meats such as sausages and duck. The rest of Saturday was spent exploring the other various light displays. My favorite was at Place Bellcour, which houses the famous statue of Louis XIV, who constructed Versailles. Unfortunately, there were way too many people (about 3 million!) so sometimes it was really hard to navigate through the streets (and the French aren’t exactly known for their skills in forming orderly lines!) that night, we returned to bed around 2 AM, and the next day we enjoyed a nice lunch before heading back into town, where we discovered Vieux Lyon and saw the beginning of the procession while enjoying mulled wine. We left Lyon that evening and returned around midnight on Sunday night/Monday morning.
I spy Le Petit Prince
Overall I had an amazing time in Lyon with amazing people. Hopefully one day I will have the opportunity to go back and see more when it is just a normal city!
Candles in the windows
Candles in the windows
Basilica of Fourvière