The famed Festival of lights (Fête des Lumières) is the biggest and best known event in Lyon, Rhône-Alpes region, France. This amazing festival dates back to 1850 when religious authorities launched a competition to design a statue to serve as a religious symbol for the town’s homage to the Virgin Mary. The origin for this tribute dates back even further. When the town was struck by plague in 1643, terrified councillors prayed at the church and promised that if the town was spared they would honour Mary. After the plague lifted a procession made its way to the Basilica of Fourvière, candles were lit and offerings were made in the name of their saviour and this became an annual event.
The organisers of the statue competition chose a design by a local sculptor named Fabisch and intended that the statue be inaugurated on August 8th, 1852 on a hill next to the Basilica to look over the town. Their plans were scuppered however when the river Saône flooded and the ceremony was postponed until December 8th (the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) that year.
Much was made of this event in the newspapers and the entire City was gripped by excitement. Alas there was further delay due to bad weather but four days later the townspeople, enthusiasm undampened, illuminated the town for visitors by putting candles in their windows.
This spontaneous and joyful movement by a large proportion of the inhabitants of Lyon fired the imagination and took hold. Each year more and more people joined in putting candles in their windows and the Basilica was lit up.
These days some eight million special stout, fluted candles are sold every year in the area of Grand Lyon; 80 buildings are lit up and the celebration attracts 4 million visitors from all over the world, spectators at one of the greatest light shows there is.
It is held annually for four nights – always including 8 December.
See the official website for details.