If you're familiar with Europe, you probably associate December 6th with St. Nicolas Day, but my thoughts always turn to Lyon, France, and la Fête des Lumières (the Festival of Lights) around this date. Having lived there as a university exchange student, I knew nothing about the event until I attended with my host sister. But Wikipedia claims that Lyon's Fête is the most attended festival in the world after Rio's Carnival and Munich's Oktoberfest. While I don't have much confidence in Wikipedia's accuracy, I do know that the festival is an amazing experience.
Imagine this: At nightfall, the people of Lyon place a lighted candle in every windowsill. The public buildings are transformed into façades of neon light. Join the crowds in the main streets and walk beneath lighted arches to the laser shows at Place des Terreaux. In the main square (Place Bellecour), ride Europe's largest ferris wheel and catch glimpses of the city from the air. Warm your hands with spiced wine from a street vendor, then ride the funicular up the hill to the Basilique de Fourvière to see the church and the city in all its lighted glory.
The history of this festival dates to the Middle Ages, when the town prayed to the Virgin Mary to save them from the plague. The plague passed, and a lighted procession has paid tribute to her each year at the Basilique de Fourvière. The citywide festival has occurred on December 8th since 1852, when a statue of Mary was finally unveiled and celebrated after months of rain and flood-induced delay. Now the festival spans the four days around that date, and more than four million visitors participate in the experience.
Each year the lighted facades reveal new themes, and according to Lyon's FDL website, there are eighty illuminations for this year's fête. Here are some photos from previous years:
I'll be watching for more #fdl2013 and #fetedeslumieres photos on Instagram this weekend. What traditions with lights do you have in your family? And I'm curious--do you celebrate St. Nicolas Day?