In Stockholm, young women wear crowns of glowing candles. In Moscow, futuristic light projections illuminate the Bolshoi Theatre. In Santa Fe, paper lanterns line pedestrian walkways and courtyards. As the days get shorter and darker, cultures across the northern hemisphere incorporate light into their rituals, holidays, and ceremonies.

While some festivals, like winter solstice and Hannukah, are celebrated across boundaries, other traditions, like the Amsterdam Light Festival and Fête des Lumières, are location-specific. Here are some of the best events lighting up the world later this year.

Someone lighting a clay lamp for Diwali in India
You’ll find rows of clay lamps lighting your path at every turn during Diwali, India’s Hindu festival of lights © Patricia Villalba Landinez / Getty Images


The biggest holiday in India, Diwali is the Hindu festival of lights. Diwali takes its name from the Sanskrit word deepavali – meaning rows (avali) of clay lamps (deepa) – a reference to the lights that people set up outside their homes during the five-day festival. The holiday centres around the concept of light triumphing over dark (and, by extension, good over evil), and while it’s Hindu in origin, Diwali is widely celebrated by Jains, Buddhists and Sikhs, too.

Taking place between mid-October and mid-November, the exact dates change each year, with the festival’s third day coinciding with the darkest night of the month on the Hindu calendar. Fireworks and family feasts are always on the agenda, among many other religious and cultural traditions. No matter how dark the night, you won’t lose your way between parties and pyrotechnic displays: oil lanterns, clay lamps and candles light up sidewalks, public parks, and entrances to homes.

A light installation on a canal bridge in Amsterdam
The imaginative illuminations last throughout the festive season in Amsterdam © Oscar Karels / Getty Images

Amsterdam Light Festival

Winter is long and cold in the Netherlands. Luckily, the Amsterdam Light Festival, showcasing light design, art and architecture, doesn’t just last for a few days: the celebrations start at the end of November and last through the last week of January. Each year, the organising committee announces a theme (the 2019 theme was ‘the medium is the message’) and invites artists from across the globe to create and submit relevant works. Ultimately, 30 installations are chosen to illuminate and decorate the city of Amsterdam during the wintry event.

One great way to see the festival’s innovative light design? From the vantage point of the water: the light festival partners with several cruise lines to offer guided boat rides with privileged views of the temporary installations.

One of the eye-catching images projected on to Lyon’s historic buildings for the annual Fête des Lumières
One of the eye-catching images projected on to Lyon’s historic buildings for the annual Fête des Lumières © NurPhoto / Getty Images

Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights)

Brightening up the city of Lyon for a weekend each December (this year, the dates are set for December 5-8), the Fête des Lumières (Festival of Lights) is a beloved tradition in France. The event dates back to 1852, when bad weather interfered with the plans for a citywide celebration on December 8, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. Although the official event was postponed, Lyon residents placed lit candles in coloured glasses in their windows, and the city was aglow with candlelight in all the hues of the rainbow. Today, during the festival, Lyonnais still put candles in their windows and balconies, while artists and designers bathe the city’s Renaissance-era facades in colourful light.

A procession taking place during the Feast of Santa Lucia in Stockholm, Sweden
A procession taking place during the Feast of Santa Lucia in Stockholm, Sweden © DEA / Getty Images

Feast of Santa Lucia

December 13 is an important day in Sweden, Norway, Finland, and some parts of Italy. It’s the Feast Day of Santa Lucia, commemorating the life of one of the first Christian martyrs in history. St Lucia, who was killed by the Romans in 304 CE, is known as the patron saint of sight – the name Lucia derives from the Latin word lux, meaning ‘light’. Today, in Scandinavian countries, each town chooses a young woman as a St Lucia stand-in. Wearing a white dress and a wreath crown with glowing candles, she leads the traditional holiday procession that kicks off the Christmas season.

The facade of the Bolshoi Theatre during Moscow’s Circle of Light Festival
The facade of the Bolshoi Theatre sporting a bold new look during Moscow’s Circle of Light Festival © Circle of Light Festival © Stanislav Krasilnikov / Getty Images

Circle of Light Festival (Moscow, Russia)

During this annual festival at the end of September, the exteriors of some of Moscow’s historic buildings and cultural sites – including Grand Tsaritsyno Palace, Bolshoi Theatre and Unesco-listed Kolomenskoe Museum-Reserve, become larger-than-life canvases for audiovisual artists and lighting designers. From high-tech firework displays over Grebnoy Channel to multimedia presentations projected onto the cascading fountains at Tsaritsyno Pond, these light-centric celebrations are free and open to the public.

Fun fact: in 2016, the Circle of Light festival earned the Guinness World Record for the largest projected image, with a total surface area measuring 50,458 square metres (543,125 square feet).

Little lanterns lining the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico
Little lanterns lining the streets of Santa Fe, New Mexico © Education Images / Getty Images

Holiday Luminaria

On Christmas Eve in Santa Fe, the streets close to traffic. As the sun goes down, the city glows with luminaria (also known as farolitos, Spanish for ‘little lanterns’) – lighted votive candles inside paper bags weighed down with sand. The tradition dates back hundreds of years, predating electricity, when New Mexicans built small bonfires to light the way between home and church. During the annual Farolito Walk, on Santa Fe’s Canyon Road, you’ll see the charming homemade lanterns on full display as locals socialise and sip hot chocolate. There are similar events throughout the southwest during the holiday season, including Luminaria Tour in Albuquerque and Light Among the Ruins at the mission ruins outside the village of Jemez Springs.

Niagara Falls illuminated for the Winter Festival of Lights
Niagara Falls lights up each year for the Winter Festival of Lights © Zou Zheng / Alamy

Winter Festival of Lights

Three million lights illuminate Niagara Falls during the Winter Festival of Lights, an annual event occurring during Canada’s chilliest months. The light installations aren’t limited to the waterfalls: the festival takes place throughout Niagara Parks, featuring a sound and light show at the historic Toronto Power Generating Station, an illuminated flower display at the Floral Showhouse, and spectacular Christmas lights in Queen Victoria Park. Upcoming festival dates are November 16, 2019, through January 12, 2020.

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