History

From an age-old tradition to a unique urban event

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Fourvière Basilica © M.Chaulet - Ville de Lyon

The Festival of Lights extends the traditional festival of the 8th December, when the residents of Lyon celebrate the Virgin Mary, whose statue stands on the Fourvière hill, overlooking the city. They put candle lamps on their window sills and balconies and wander the streets of the city.

On the 8 September 1852, as the city was preparing to celebrate the installation of a statue of the Virgin Mary in the Chapel on the Fourvière Hill, the ceremony had to be abandoned as the River Saône was overflowing. The festivities were put back to December 8 of the same year. But the climate did not favour the organisers - a violent storm broke out during the day, and the event had to be abandoned. Then seeing the weather improving as night fell, the population spontaneously lit their homes with candles and Bengal lights and hurried down into the street.

The tradition of the little lights

Since then the ritual has been repeated every year - the people of Lyon decorate their windows and balconies with thousands of little lights - candles protected by little glass shades whose flames wreathe the city in a warm and gentle light, as winter draws near. While continuing to respect this age-old tradition, the festival has over the last ten years mutated into an outstanding urban event, born of the wish to create a festival that would unite all of the people of Lyon and continue to celebrate the lighting of the city begun in 1889. Since then every year, for four nights around the 8 December Lyon becomes the centre of light show design with artists from around the world, performances and light shows creating unique designs that attract millions of visitors.

Based on this tradition, the Festival of Lights has since become the world’s principal event for creative light displays, showcasing the work of top artists and offering an open-air laboratory for up-and-coming talent.