Christmas Spirit in Lyon

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Last week, I wrote that Christmas had been canceled. So, we decided to venture out and see if we could find the Christmas spirit in Lyon. Here’s what we found.

On Saturday, Jordan and I went to go pick up a package. As you know, it’s relatively difficult for us to receive packages in Lyon. The package was delivered to a nearby florist shop in the heart of the city. We decided to take a long walk to the shop to pick up the package. After all, we have to take advantage of our three hours of time allowed outside! Along the way, I suggested that we go to see the grand Christmas tree located at Hôtel-Dieu.

christmas spirit in Lyon, France. Large christmas tree
The grand tree located in HôtelDieu. Spot the small child under the tree for scale! 

As we were walking there, a caravan of police cars came from all sides of the pedestrian square. Hundreds of police were surrounding the area. A helicopter was flying overhead. Police erected physical barricades on the side streets. We had no idea what was happening, but we knew we didn’t want to be there.

All of a sudden, we started to hear loud music. It wasn’t upbeat music; it was eerie. The music sounded like an anthem played in Russia or North Korea. We learned that it was a peaceful protest. However, the police were prepared for the march to take a turn for the worse.

We hadn’t planned on getting caught up in the excitement. I read about a protest in Lyon against a new security law but saw that the location was nowhere near where we were going. I didn’t think that the protest would actually be a march that would end in Place Bellecour, the largest pedestrian square in Europe! The police barricaded the street with the flower shop. We could see the store, but could not get there. The police directed us to leave the city center and directed everyone along the Rhone river. We walked an extra two miles and were able to circle back behind the police barricade to go to the flower shop. It was good we got out of there when we did, package in hand. We later read on the news that some protesters turned unruly, and police had to use water cannons and tear gas.

Excitement aside, we were surprised to see that there was plenty of Christmas spirit in Lyon! We just had to search for it. Check out for yourself below!

christmas spirit in Lyon, France. christmas street lights
Brightly decorated side streets illuminating the stores for holiday shoppers.
lyon, france at night
A bridge across the Saône river illuminated at night.
christmas spirit in Lyon, France. christmas street lights
Different patterns of Christmas lights illuminate the side streets in Lyon.
christmas spirit in Lyon, France. christmas street lights
A pedestrian shopping area in Lyon is illuminated by a string of Christmas lights.
chestnuts for sale in lyon, france
A local stand is selling roasted chestnuts.
christmas tree decorated in france
Not all trees get decorated with the same attention as in Hôtel-Dieu!
christmas tree in lyon, france at a boulangerie
Our local boulangerie is in the Christmas spirit.
palais de justice lyon france
Palais de Justice illuminated in red, with the Notre-Dame de Fourvière in the background. A sign is illuminated saying “Merci Marie”

On Tuesday, December 8, we experienced a new tradition in Lyon. The tradition dates back to 1643. During this time, the plague was impacting many European cities. If the plague spared the city of Lyon, residents promised to pay tribute to the Virgin Mary. And once the epidemic started to subside, the city of Lyon did just that.

In 1852, the city decided to erect a gold statue of Mary on one of the highest points in the city. The original erection date was September 8. Unfortunately, floods stopped the event from happening. The date was rescheduled for December 8, and the rest is history. Since 1852, residents light candles in the windows of their homes to pay tribute to Mary on this day.

This year, the candles had a double meaning. The city asked the residents of Lyon to light candles as a sign of solidarity. Lyon also lit 20,000 candles as a homage to the healthcare workers fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

We decided to participate in the event and purchased small candles from the grocery store. Jordan set them on our balcony and secured them with duct tape, but we had not thought the plan through. As soon as Jordan lit the candles, the wind immediately blew the flame out! We had not thought of purchasing holders for the candles! So, we had to improvise. We brought the coffee table on the balcony inside and put it against the window. We then spaced out the candles and lit them so that the wind would not be a factor.

december 8 light the night in solidarity in lyon, france
Candles lining the window in our apartment.

Around this time, we started hearing loud noises coming from outside. We thought they might be fireworks but didn’t see anything. We chalked it up to just being a train nearby. The next day, we read that an unauthorized group had coordinated setting fireworks off throughout Lyon’s entire city at the same time. The government was pretty mad about it and opened an investigation. It turns out that fans of the local soccer team, Olympique Lyonnais, had coordinated the effort.

Jordan and I will be celebrating our second wedding anniversary this Tuesday, December 15. We will be celebrating by getting COVID tests together (we are not symptomatic), drinking champagne, and hopefully eating a fancy meal of chicken wings! A negative test will allow us to travel for Christmas, so we may not stay in Lyon after all. Stay tuned next week to see where we are (hopefully) heading!

*As a note, I will be switching our weekly post from Fridays to Sundays. I’m now busy working full-time! 🙂

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9 thoughts on “Christmas Spirit in Lyon

  1. Way to go Laura and Jordan! Love the decorations. I was delivering MOW last week and passed a house on a dead end street decorated to the max. They must really love them, knowing few will see them. I want to go back in the evening to see them. Happy anniversary! Hard to believe it has been two years already.

  2. Lyon seems beautiful at Christmas! I got a little excited for you when I saw the local stand. My first thought, before reading your caption, was churros😂

  3. Ah, Hi Laura, I’m your Mom’s first cousin! So happy to see the love of travel runs in our family. I love Lyon. It took me a long time to pronounce it correctly! My sister Ann and I went on a river cruise a few years ago that ending in Lyon. We walked and rode bikes all over the city. Love seeing it decorated for Christmas. If you can get to Vienna over the holidays, you’ll be amazed how beautiful that city is. Most likely you’ve been there! Looking forward to seeing your parents in APRIL 2022! Third time we’ve had to change the date. Stay safe and enjoy your time there. Beth

    1. Hi Beth! Great to connect with you. Our travel roots must run deep! There are plenty of river cruise boats that have been docked in Lyon for almost a year now. Hopefully they will start having passengers this summer if things get under control with the virus. So glad that you helped my parents discover their travel bug too! Fingers crossed we will still be living in Lyon in April 2022 so we can meet them at the end of the trip. I went to Vienna when I was 18 on a youth church trip in June 2006. I don’t remember much of it other than this large church. It’s on our list of places to go again when possible! Keep in touch.

  4. Beautiful Lyon at Christmas. Sounds exciting too. I do love those roasted chestnuts and they are very hard to find (maybe impossible) in the USA. I have seen some lately at Trader Joe’s but they are not the same as the hot roasted ones for sale on the street. I got some when we were in Europe 2019 October. Yummy!

    1. Yum! We didn’t try the roasted chestnuts at the time, and I think we missed our window of opportunity. What do they taste like? I’m not a fan of boiled peanuts and I’m worried they may be similar!

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