You’ve heard about the “Fête des Lumières” but you don’t really know what it is, or what to expect ? This article is here to enlighten you !

Colorful projections of lights on the facades of the Town Hall and the fine Arts Museum. (Place des Terreaux.)
© Justine Baraban

What is the “Fête des Lumières” ? It’s a festival of 4 nights during which buildings and places around the city are enlighten : projections, shows, performances… it can be poetical, funny or spectacular : there is something for everyone !

History of the “Fête des Lumières”

It was originally a celebration of the Virgin Mary. In 1643, a huge plague was decimating the south of France. The worried people of Lyon went on the 8th of September to the Fourvière chapel up on the hill (it was not a basilica yet). Up there, they promised to the Virgin Mary that they would pay tribute to her every year if she could protect Lyon from the epidemic.
As Lyon was spared, they kept their promise and a procession would go to Fourvière every 8th of September to honour the Virgin Mary. On the 8th of September 1852, the unveiling of the golden statue of Mary that you can see at the top of the basilica was supposed to take place but had to be canceled due to the flood of the Saône river. They postponed the ceremony to the 8th of December, but a storm almost canceled the unveiling again. Eventually the weather cleared and the people of Lyon were so thrilled that they put little candles on their windowsills, so many that by the time it was dark, the whole city was illuminated. Clergymen followed the lead and illuminated the Fourvière chapel with flares. People went in the streets and celebrated until late in the night. The 8th of December has therefore become a big celebration for the people of Lyon, who have been putting candles on their windowsills every year since then.

Shadows of trees and animals projected on the walls of the musée Gadagne courtyard.
© Justine Baraban

The Festival of Lights today

The tradition has been carried on every year up to now. In 1989 the municipality followed by taking the decision to enlighten some monuments. In 1999, the illuminations as we know them now started to take place. Since this date, the celebration, which was originally a folk tradition, has become more of a festival. It always lasts 4 days around the 8th of December, and it is getting more and more known worldwide as many international artists and professionals now come to illuminate the buildings and create spectacles and performances around the city. It is a very important period for the people of Lyon, and it is also a major touristic event : several millions of visitors come to Lyon every year to see the illuminations.  

Big luminous installation on the Place Bellecour.
© Justine Baraban

Going to the Festival of Lights

Here are some tips for you to make the most of this experience !

  • Download the Fête des Lumières app. It can be useful !
  • Don’t form too big groups of people : the city will be overcrowded, millions of visitors are expected and it will be very hard to stick with a big group.
  • If you have a car, don’t use it and avoid public transportation as much as possible.
  • Pay attention to your personal belongings, there might be pickpockets

Les Lumignons

The candles we put at our windowsills every 8th of December are called Lumignons. We created a little DIY  to teach you how to make your own Lumignons ! Check it out :

Justine Baraban

Hey ! Moi c'est Justine, j'ai découvert le réseau ESN pendant mon Erasmus à Dublin et j'ai rejoint ESN CosmoLyon à mon retour ! Dans la vie j'aime l'art, la musique, les livres, le cinéma, les voyages et les chats. Je fais aussi un peu de photo à mes heures perdues. À bientôt à Lyon !