Here in Lyon, we’re looking to the Christmas holiday as sort of a distant milestone to reach. Although I have got the tree up and decorated, I have to say that the Christmas spirit has yet to sweep me up. I have tried to get crafty but honestly it’s been sort of a haul. We see the store windows all gussied up, the little Christmas village set up at place Carnot, but the weather has been so warm it has seemed silly to even wear a sweater. How can we think of Christmas in weather like this? Apparently the weather has never been this warm in December.
In Lyon, the season is kicked off when every family lights candles in a row along all of their windows facing the street. This is a tradition that began in 1852. We stroll out around town in the evening to see the whole city alight. It is a tradition that began with a change in weather, over 150 years ago. On the day originally previewed for a ceremony commemorating the reception of the statue of the Virgin Mary that now sits above the Cathedrale de Fouvière, heavy rains threatened to cancel the event, but suddenly stopped, the skies miraculously clearing. The people of Lyon lit candles along their window sills to give thanks to Mary for the wonderful turn of weather. People began to come out of their houses and everyone walked onto the streets. Soon the entire city was bathed in a warm and mysterious evening glow of candle light and neighbors walked together enjoying the spectacle. Since that time, everyone has lit candles on their windowsills every 8th of December, a homey, family tradition I like.
Lyon’s Fête des Lumières began in 1999 and is now an international festival that fills the whole city with even more light. For the last 5 years, the festival has drawn over 5 million visitors a year, and it gets bigger every year. The exhibits have grown to monstrous proportions. International artists design performance art pieces on a grand scale using sophisticated light and sound systems and the existing architecture and each square in the city is like a contemporary art exhibition. This year some artists have been setting up some cables between the trees on our square. I am anxious to see what they have planned for us. It is fashionable in this festival to blast exceptionally loud cacophonous discordant music designed sweep people up in the effects. Sometimes it is effective and sometimes it gets old as it repeats. It’s true, it is designed to be sort of a mini-show, for people passing by, and if you live on any particular square you have to listen and see the show repetitively late into the night. Hopefully ours will be a quiet one.
While Christmas shopping last night, I happened upon the Place Bellcour, where and enormous plastic bubble has been erected around the statue in the center of the square. I had my pocket camera with me at the time.