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Festival of Lights: Origin and Meaning, Celebration and Traditions, Prayers

Festival of Lights: Origin and Meaning, Celebration and Traditions, Prayers

December 8, the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary, is also the day on which the famous festival of lights is celebrated. A great popular event in Lyon since 1852, the tradition of the festival of lights is to light and place lights on the edges of your windows as a sign of devotion to the Virgin Mary.

Today, the Christian origin of the festival of lights is little-known, and yet this festival symbolizes the deep link that exists between the city of Lyon and the Blessed Virgin!

Discover the origin, liturgy and prayers associated with this Marian festival! Pray to the Virgin Mary on the occasion of the festival of lights, whose illuminations symbolize our “thank you, Mary”!  

Origin and Significance of the Festival of Lights in Lyon

Where does the festival of lights come from?

The festival of lights has its origins in the 17th century. On September 8, 1643, while a plague epidemic was raging in Lyon, the aldermen—municipal councilors of the city—went in procession to the hill of Fourvière, asking for the protection of the Virgin Mary. That year, miraculously, the city was preserved: the aldermen's pilgrimage continued every year, as a sign of gratitude. The privileged relationship that linked the city of Lyon to the Blessed Virgin was born at that time! 

Following these events, a statue was built in honor of the Virgin Mary, at the chapel of the Virgin of Fourvière, whose inauguration was to take place on September 8, 1852. But bad weather postponed the inauguration to December 8, the date of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. 


On December 8, while the whole city was preparing for the party, violent storms broke out, and it was decided to postpone the event a second time. But, when the evening came, the Lyonnais people, with a single heart, performed a beautiful act of love towards the Virgin: they set up lights at their windows, and went up in procession to the chapel. The festival of lights was born on December 8, 1852.


Only two years later, on the same date, the Church proclaimed the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary!

Christian Meaning of the Festival of Lights

At the festival of lights, Christians honor the Blessed Virgin who, thanks to our acts of faith, joins us in our humanity! This is an opportunity for us to meditate on the meaning of faith and hope! Let us look, in fact, at the admirable consequences that the wish of the aldermen had in 1643, since even today we celebrate the Immaculate Virgin in Lyon.


This festival also invites every Christian to give thanks: we can also read a beautiful, bright “Merci Marie” on the hill of Fourvière on of December 8!


Finally, the beautiful illuminations of the festival of lights are a strong symbol: we Christians are called to be, like Jesus, “light of the world” and to spread this divine light around us.

Celebration and Traditions of the Festival of Lights

The family tradition of the festival of lights

Taking up the gesture of faith of 1852, the family tradition of the festival of lights is to place “lumignons” (drinking glasses with a candle) at your window, on the evening of December 8.


For the people of Lyon, this tradition is as widespread as the ornaments on the Christmas tree. Starting in November, stores sell these famous candles with their colorful glasses.

The illuminations of the city of Lyon

Since 1989, the family tradition has been accompanied by illuminations throughout the city of Lyon: monuments are highlighted and professional show crews set up light displays and animations.


In fact, December 8 is now a big tourist festival, which attracts several million visitors. The festival of lights takes place over four days, during which life is in full swing.

The Celebration of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

It is no coincidence that the date of December 8 was chosen to be the day of the inauguration of the statue of the Fourvière chapel.


Indeed, December 8 is also the day of the feast of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary: on this occasion, Christians celebrate “Mary, conceived without sin”. The symbol of light is taken up during the liturgies, meaning that Mary is clothed in a cloak of light, because of her purity. For us, it is the reflection of eternal light!


To honor the immaculate virgin, the diocese of Lyon organizes a procession every year with torches to the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière. For a few decades, we have also seen an immense “MERCI MARIE” written in light on the hill of Fourvière, saying thank you for having welcomed Jesus in her womb, he who is the true “light of the world”!

Prayer to Mary during the festival of lights

“Holy Virgin Mary, Immaculate Conception, you know our world, in which you lived 2000 years ago. You know the darkness that can inhabit our hearts and our societies. But you welcomed Jesus, the Light born of the Light, into your womb, so that he might illuminate the world by bringing it truth and joy. While we are in great uncertainty about the future, we entrust ourselves to you, our families, our communities, and our societies. Knowing that your Son Jesus is the conqueror of the world, we ask you to help us to welcome him with confidence, and to always choose the light in our decisions.

Our Lady of Fourvière, the people of Lyon remember that you have always protected them in the face of great dangers; stay with us in our current trials, and watch over each of your children. Our Lady of Fourvière, pray for us.”

Pray with Hozana for the festival of lights!

The festival of lights testifies to the great Marian piety of the people of Lyon, for whom the Blessed Virgin manifested herself in a very special way. This feast also symbolizes the special protection granted by Mary to those who pray to her!


So, take example from this act of faith and hope and entrust yourself to the Blessed Virgin, our mother. Follow Hozana's prayer communities to pray to her on December 8!