La Fête des Lumières is the biggest annual event in Lyon. It dates back to the 17th century when a plague struck and the town councillors vowed to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary, should the city be spared. Since then, on the 8th December the citizens of Lyon have lit candles in their windows throughout the city as an offering. The celebrations now last 4 days and have lost a lot of this religious connection, however on the first day of the festival, there is still a candlelit procession up to the Basilica at Fourvière. Lit up beside the Basilica is a huge message ‘MERCI MARIE’ which towers over the city as a reminder of its origins.
Down at the bottom of the hill, the festival has become more commercialised and a testament to the magic that modern technology can create. Throughout La Presqu’île (the centre of Lyon) there were a series of light shows, although light show doesn’t quite capture the reality. Place Bellecour is the centre of the festival with the Grand Roue, from there the events spread out in every direction, along the river banks multicoloured tepees; giant angle poise lamps all along the main shopping street and a foot bridge covered with umbrellas lit from beneath. There were two in particular which I was completely captivated by. Théâtre des Célestins, an impressive old building in the centre, was a demonstration of perfect synchrony between music and lighting, as they projected a false image of the theatre, which they then caused to fall apart and simulated the whole building shaking from side to side. They then turned the front of the theatre into a keyboard, in that the lighting of one section would correspond with a particular note, having demonstrated this; they then proceeded to create music. It was fantastic! L’église Saint-Nizierwas also stunning, with creepers and vines climbing up the façade before dramatically tumbling the stone blocks of the church down and leaving behind a ruin. Up on the Croix Rousse hill, the artists’ quartier, there was an interactive show, which was weight sensitive. Picture a street map projected onto the floor, every step you take creates a new piece of road in front of you with the tourist map red circle around you saying ‘vous êtes ici’. ‘you are here’.
There were about 50 different displays all over the centre of Lyon and even in four days, I didn’t manage to catch all of them!
What made this festival so special was the atmosphere. Despite the freezing temperatures, way below 0 degrees every night, people flooded out into the streets. Fortified by the vin chaud stalls which sprung up at every corner, enjoyment of which definitely depended on how cold you were, huge crowds came out every night to see the show. The streets were filled with crepe stands, churros, waffles and chestnuts to keep the cold at bay. From a newcomer to Lyon’s point of view it was magical and I had never seen the like. It was the warm up to Christmas and ok, a lot of the crowds were shipped in tourists and a few of the light shows were repeats from the year before according to the teachers I work with, but they still couldn’t hide the glint of excitement when I mentioned the fete. When asked whether they would be going, a nonchalant shrug of the shoulders, well, I suppose I should have a look, for my children, of course. So it seems this festival still holds its magic for the Lyonnais population too. Merci Marie