Lyon, France’s third largest city by population, is already a gorgeous destination. With a sprawling downtown nestled between the River Saône and the River Rhône, a charming historic district at the base of a mountain, and multiple stunning cathedrals, Lyon embodies what people dream of seeing in France. However, once a year it becomes a destination out of a fairy tale.

Fête des Lumières, December 6th – December 9th

Cathédrale Saint-Jean 99% of the year.

Cathédrale Saint-Jean during these four magical days.

The tradition dates back to 1643 when the people of Lyon (les Lyonnais) were desperate to end a devastating plague. On September 8th, 1643 the municipal councillors vowed to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary in order for the town to be spared. So December 8th of the same year, they did a grand procession to the Basilique Notre-Dame de Fourvière to light candles and give offerings to her.

View from Basilique de Fourvière of the city.

View of the basilica from below.

By 1852, this tradition was so ingrained to les Lyonnais that it became a sort of symbol to their city. They erected a statue of the Virgin Mary atop the mount (near the basilica) to overlook her glorious town. December 8th became a day many people would light candles and leave them out their windows to pay continuable respect for the town being spared from plague.
Nowadays, Fête des Lumières is just marvelous. Every large building or monument in the city is illuminated with a musically-coordinated display. Vendors line the streets to sell warm crêpes and warm drinks, and people young and old stay out wandering around until 2 or 3 in the morning.
 
I needed an excuse to see my friend, Eze, who’d been studying in Lyon this semester, and I wanted a reason to avoid studying for my finals this week. The fête offered me a perfect solution to both, and a memory I’ll hold on to forever! 
 
Merci Marie !