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People attend the Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.
Copyright  PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP

See the city of Lyon illuminated as 150-year-old light festival returns

By Scott Brownlee

Lyon’s Fêtes des Lumières kicked off last Wednesday with more than 30 dazzling projections and light installations colouring the city’s historic centre and parks.

One of the largest events on the French tourism calendar, the four-night extravaganza is expected to attract millions of visitors to the city this week in its first edition since the pandemic began.

The origins of the Fêtes des Lumières date back to 1852, when the residents of Lyon lit up their city with candles to thank the Virgin Mary for her protection from the pandemic - not COVID-19, but a cholera outbreak that was sweeping across France in the 19th century.

Scott Brownlee / @sayboosh
Attendees take photos at the Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.Scott Brownlee / @sayboosh
Laurent Cipriani/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A man passes in front of an installation at Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.Laurent Cipriani/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
The 2019 edition of the Fêtes des Lumières saw 2 million people visit the city which has a population of just over 500,000.
Scott Brownlee / @sayboosh
Crowds wait for a light show to begin at Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.Scott Brownlee / @sayboosh

To inaugurate a golden statue of Mary overlooking Lyon from the top of Fourvière Hill, on December 8, locals lined their windows with thousands of flickering candles. They started a tradition that continues to light up the city every December to this day.

The 2019 edition of the Fêtes des Lumières saw two million people visit Lyon which has a population of just over 500,000. It is the largest annual event held in the French city which usually welcomes about six million visitors per year.

Laurent Cipriani/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
People attend the Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.Laurent Cipriani/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP or licensors
People attend the Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP or licensors
Scott Brownlee / @sayboosh
Installation at Fêtes des Lumières in Lyon, France, Wednesday, Dec. 8, 2021.Scott Brownlee / @sayboosh

In recent decades, this local tradition has grown into the spectacle and tourist attraction that it is today. Traffic is cut off from the city centre for four nights every December as tourists and locals walk the streets of Lyon to enjoy the light shows and displays.

With the city of Lyon enforcing mask-wearing and following sanitary protocols, the Fêtes des Lumières installations will be on display every night throughout the city until Saturday, December 11.