Lyon transforms from a laid-back metropolitan to a bustling city dazzling with lights around every corner for four days in December. Lyon’s famed festival, Fête des Lumières, or Festival of Lights, illuminates the city with magic and wonder through various light displays. After organizers canceled the event in 2020 due to COVID, it was back and creating a lot of buzz and excitement in the city.
Like most things in France, the festival has a religious backstory. As I wrote about this time last year, townspeople went up to Fourvière to ask the Virgin Mary to protect the city from the plague in the 17th-century. The locals vowed to thank Mary every year if the plague spared the city. As luck would have it, the plague had a limited impact in Lyon. And so, the tradition was born. Residents would light candles to thank Mary for sparing the city every year. And for the past thirty years, Lyon turned this tradition into a four-day spectacle of lights throughout the city.
Designers placed physical installments at Lyon’s park, a school courtyard, and pedestrian squares. Popular buildings, like a cathedral and train station, projected light shows or short clips. Not only did the event allow us to see the city visually differently, but it also allowed us to explore places we’d never previously visited.
I couldn’t find the energy to venture out on the Fête des Lumières’ first night after a long day of work, but Jordan reassured me that we could visit most of the thirty installations over the remaining three nights. So on Thursday evening, we started exploring the Festival of Lights.
Before venturing out, we weren’t sure what Lyon’s dinner situation would be. Would there be vendors set up like at the Christmas markets in Strasbourg, or would we be battling others for a table at a restaurant? We decided to grab dinner beforehand so we wouldn’t get hangry that evening. And as Jordan’s luck would have it, his favorite American quick-service restaurant just opened nearby. Yes, a Chipotle! We no longer have to go to Paris just to eat at one.
Side note: If you’ve never been to Chipotle, try my order next time. A steak bowl with brown rice, fajita veggies, corn, a little sour cream, mild and medium sauce, and topped with lettuce. I skip the beans and the cheese. It’s so good!
On the way to the park after dinner, we passed by our old stomping grounds where we “lived” for the first few months after arriving in Lyon. I say “lived” loosely as we were stuck in the apartment 23 hours a day. We never make it over to this neighborhood anymore, but it was nice to see a familiar area again. I still know our 1-hour walking path by heart! We walked to the park’s main entrance and found ourselves staring at a long line of people. It took us about thirty minutes to get through the line into the park, only to join another line.
Thankfully, the second line went quickly, and we could explore the installations within the park. The number of people we saw while visiting the park was just a preview of what we would experience throughout the weekend.
We knew the event would be popular, even more so with it returning after a gap year. But neither of us anticipated how popular it would be. Attendance was estimated to be 180,000 people per day at the Fête des Lumières. We were packed shoulder to shoulder with strangers the majority of the weekend. At one point, we were at a complete standstill in between hundreds of others trying to traverse a narrow street in both directions. With the Omicron variant raging worldwide, we were a little too close for comfort, even with masks on. We made sure to avoid that street for the rest of the festival.
We spent the weekend enjoying good food and great company with old and new friends while getting our steps in. Our phones logged that we walked over 17 miles throughout the three days! We visited most of the thirty installations, only missing the ones on the far outskirts of town. Some were more interesting, more colorful, or more interactive than others. But they were each special in their own way.
Continue scrolling to view photos of the installations, along with their description. The “Iris” was our favorite – make sure to watch the video!
LES LUMIGNONS DU CŒUR (The lights of the heart)
“Located on the Place des Jacobins, each corner is richly adorned with bouquets of flowers of light and candles, and the fountain is magnified in an aquatic garden composed of a myriad of flowers of candles. Attendees could purchase a candle as a donation to a chosen organization.”
LA RIVIÈRE (The River)
“As you walk along the tree-lined banks of the Rhône, you meet majestic carp, swimming gracefully above your heads!
The fish, luminous and translucent, come alive to the rhythm of the silvery reflections of their scales. Is it the life of the river which invites itself out of the water or is it you who plunge into the dark limbo of the Rhône?”
“As you walk in the park, you will come across, like gentle punctuations in the darkness, luminous nests installed in the hollows of trees which subtly light up the undergrowth, you will admire improbable phosphorescent plants which adorn the lawn or casually hanging from the woods. above the lake water. A little further, the kiosk is illuminated by strange swarms, delicate fireflies, and ephemeral moths.”
“An imposing Phoenix, inspired by the mythical animal, came to land in Lyon, to send us a message of hope and rebirth. This neon bird vibrates with multiple bright and changing colors, evoking the magnificent plumages of tropical birds, such as the blue-throated macaw or the yellow-faced parrot. The Phoenix is reborn from its ashes, in a multiplicity of birds in the heart of the city.”
“Immersed in this sci-fi atmosphere, you actually find yourself at the heart of the tale of a turbulent but hopeful period. Dotting the black reflective surface of an octagon, a group of lamps arranged in a circle light up in a hypnotic loop. With its fine line, a laser upsets the roundness of the lamps.
In this luminous choreography, accompanied by sound, the curves meet the lines, the light crosses the reflections, evoking a space in full metamorphosis.”
“Suspended above the water, 56 light frames placed in two rows follow one another, geometric shapes aligned and multiplied. A luminous composition emphasizes their perspective, like a breath or a wave.”
“Let yourself be captivated by the succession of graphic and colorful paintings that transform and sublimate the facade and rose window of Saint-Jean Cathedral.
This mapping is a bewitching demonstration of how the eye and its components interpret or shape reality. How to apprehend shapes, colors, textures, but also, how to adapt to the luminosity, how to imitate and exceed the capacities of the human eye, how light intervenes in our perception of what surrounds us.”
Nouvelle vague (New Wave)
“Follow the initiatory journey of a small seed in search of its creator: a great alchemist who has fun creating flora and fauna. But for this little seed, as determined as it is, nothing becomes an adventure! Follow her in her adventures which will not be easy.”
LA VAGUE (The Wave)
“At nightfall, on Place Bellecour, come and watch the spectacle of hundreds of scales rising up, undulating under the breath of a light breeze. Like a wave, the wave emerges from the ground, undulating in a monochrome of luminous hues. In this contemplation, let yourself be transported into a poetic parenthesis, gently rocked by the melodious sound of a flute.”
LE LAPIN DANS LA LUNE (The Rabbit in the Moon)
“The facades of the Place des Terreaux are the scene of this Aztec tale brought to light with very colorful graphics, which is inspired by the illustrations of traditional communities. Emerging from the cosmos, the feathered serpent god Quetzalcóalt arrives on Earth in a human appearance. Hungry and weakened after his exploration, he meets a rabbit, which sacrifices itself so that it can feed.
Grateful, Quetzalcóalt donates the rabbit an eternal place in the moon for men to admire and remember his sacrifice and kindness, restoring hope to humanity. Since then, every night in the moonlight, the rabbit appears on the face of the moon.”
Do Humans Need Humans?
“This work calls out to the well-being and development that big data and artificial intelligence can bring to society, but also warns of the risks of social and cultural drifts these are likely to cause.”
“Approach this strange geodesic dome! Luminous flux runs through its neon lines and triangles. These represent the digital connections and communications put in place across the world during containment. Symbol of interrelation, network, united and autonomous at the same time, this architecture is based on a structure within which the holding of the whole is ensured by the solidity of the elements between them.”
“This interactive work was created to draw attention to the issue of global warming and the water cycle, metaphorically showing the impact of every human action on the environment. This hexagonal light structure in the shape of a water drop evokes the importance of water and the need to preserve this resource. By playing, with the lights, sounds, and colors of this installation, you modify its environment. These changes symbolize those that the gestures and actions of man generate on the fate of our planet.”
Thanks for reading! We definitely recommend visiting Lyon to experience this event one day.