Every year in Lyon, France an enormous light festival takes places, attracting millions of people worldwide. As I navigated Lyon during that frigid December night I saw the opportunity to warm my soul with vin chaud at 2€ a cup and sugar coated gaufres as a treat. There were colorful lights everywhere, some danced on buildings to the synchronization of music and others lit entire avenues a bright hue. I felt a telling atmosphere of holiday cheer, a vibrant city filled with joy.
What is La Fête Des Lumières about?
The festival takes place every year for three or four days around the 8th of December. In the 17th century Lyon was struck by the plague and the villagers promised that they would pay tribute to the Virgin Mary if spared. They would light candles and give offerings to commemorate this event for years to come.
Today, instead of lighting candles the city of Lyon sets up different light installations; every neighborhood of Lyon prepares something unique and different to add to the holiday experience. Due to its originality, la Fête des Lumières attracts millions of tourists each year. Not only did I hear people speaking French and English, I made out Italian, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, and Arabic. This holiday is so popular that it is now being exported abroad; Dubai recently celebrated its first Fête des Lumières.
Why Should I Go to Lyon’s Light Festival?
Atop the Fourvière spun an enormous disco ball which bounced light from old Lyon far into Presqu’île. At the Place des Terreaux you’d witness a light show on the town hall, and then enter the building to see another stunning presentation. The Place des Jacobins also had a nice installation, featuring a large lamp which shone shapes of a baby’s mobile upon the surroundings buildings.
However the festival’s popularity is its downfall. Many French people who lived around Lyon actually flee the area for the time being or avoid the festival all together due to the chaos. Walking shoulder to shoulder with strangers within an uncontrollable crowd even made me, a New Yorker, uncomfortable. If you’re walking around with young children or expensive belongings then keep a watchful eye.
Overall, I believe the La Fête des Lumières is something you should see at least once in your lifetime. The ambience is unreal and the light festival allows you to enjoy a city in France you may not normally get to visit. Everybody does Paris, but the really cool Francophiles explore all the realms of France.