One of our favorite Christmas traditions for the past eleven years has been visiting the Walt Disney World Resort. One of our favorite places, during this time of the year, is EPCOT, where World Showcase transforms for guests to experience “Holidays Around the World”. Here you can be enchanted by seasonal traditions from around the world; all within walking distance of one another! Step into an amazing display of lights, sights, culture, unique holiday dining, and of course Santa Claus! This year, you can encounter “Holidays Around the World” at EPCOT from November 25-December 30 (usually the day after Thanksgiving through the end of December).
Deciding to spend time experiencing what “Holidays Around the World” has to offer is one thing, but successfully accomplishing this is another. Our first few adventures at this event were not very successful. We attempted to do it all in a few hours. However, after running around World Showcase from country to country trying to catch a glimpse of the Holiday Storytellers, our feet were sore, our minds were tired and it was not enjoyable. No matter how hard we tried or how quick we ran, the crowded lines, distance, and prompt schedule times made it impossible for us to enjoy the splendor of this unique event. The key is to plan ahead; take it slow; and be captivated by the magic of the holidays. I Santa-chased on our visits before having a baby and when she was an infant. I tried to capture as many as possible on each trip! This year, with a four-year-old, a whole new adventure unfolded. Her goal was making sure that EVERY Santa saw her acting, in her own words, “amazingly and perfectly wonderful”, so they all would report back to “The American Guy” and her elf on the shelf, Chippey.
On this adventure, we started in the United Kingdom, having entered through World Gateway which was the closest entrance from our resort, Disney’s Beach Club Resort. We visit the parks quite frequently; therefore, the only attractions we did on this day were Soarin’ and Finding Nemo and had reserved Fast Passes to both using the My Disney Experience App. We decided to dedicate the majority of our time enjoying the unique perspective of Christmas from all of the various countries around the world that only EPCOT has to offer. We made the decision to select which Storytellers were most important to us as a family and scheduled all of our activities around those that were top priority. Any additional holiday characters were a bonus. We found this way to be much more enjoyable and less hectic.
In the United Kingdom, we saw Father Christmas. He was my daughter Giuliana’s FAVORITE!!!! He enters ringing a bell, carrying mistletoe and singing. He shared many United Kingdom customs of caroling and Christmas cards. Father Christmas always picks a child from the audience and has the child ring bells as the audience sings “Deck the Halls”. He sends a magical reindeer bell home with his appointed bell ringer to ring on Christmas morning. This year, our Giuliana was chosen for this task! She kept the bell right beside her bed until we put the Christmas decorations up in the attic and she made sure her bell had a special box! As he discusses the custom of the mistletoe, he relates his message with humor and audience participation. He finishes with singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas” and takes pictures with a few guests at the conclusion of his monologue.
We continued on our journey with the next stop being France. There, we met Père Noël. He shared French Christmas through the eyes of a little girl. She had written him a letter and was excited about her visit from him. He discusses Mass and the birth of baby Jesus. He conveys the traditions most French families embrace. My daughter loved the story of leaving the shoe by the fireplace for him to fill. He shared about how last year the little girl left her Daddy’s larger shoe to get more gifts. My daughter said she likes the way that little girl thinks. He ended with teaching us how to say “Merry Christmas” in French and snapping a few pictures with guests.
Next on our adventure we landed in Germany, where we met Helga, who enlightened us on the customs of Germany during Christmas Time. We were amazed to find out the very first Christmas tree was decorated in Germany, starting the tradition around the globe. She sings “O Tannenbaum” and reveals about the very first Christmas tree and Martin Luther, who cut one down and took it home to attach little candles to it, which started the tradition. Finally, she shares about the famous Nutcracker story and how nutcrackers have a strong presence in Germany. At the end of her story, a character of the Nutcracker appeared with Helga and she taught us all “Sleep in Heavenly Peace” in German. Helga and the Nutcracker took pictures with guests at the end of their performance.
Mr. and Mrs. Claus are nestled inside of Santa’s Village, which is located at the America Pavilion. We
always make this stop since he is our favorite Santa in all the world together with his lovely wife. They do not share about US customs; however, they are seated in beautiful chairs with an amazing backdrop for several increments of seventy-minutes throughout the day. Children (and adults) can go sit in their laps and tell them what they want for Christmas. PhotoPass photographers are present, so families who have the Memory Maker or want a professional picture, that is available. The American Pavilion also houses the Kwanzaa and Hanukah Storytellers.
The Hanukkah Storyteller sings about the feeling of the holiday season and the menorah. She tells about the customs of the candles/lights and why there are nine candles and eight days of Hanukah. She shares Jewish traditions and customs during Hanukah, including the dreidel, giving gifts on each day of Hanukah, eating oil-based food such as doughnuts and latkes, and the parties during the celebration. She ends with singing a Hanukah traditional song along with a tambourine and posing for pictures with guests.
The Kwanzaa Storyteller comes in singing about the good news! Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday rather than a religious holiday, so she tells us most people celebrate Christmas and Kwanzaa. Her story is about the seven principles of Kwanzaa and the meanings. She was very animated and mixed song and dance with her story and encouraged audience participation. She had Kwanzaa information cards and took pictures with guests after her performance.
Now in Norway, we met Sigrid, a farm girl, who told us about the mischievous Christmas gnome, Julenissen. The gnome is quite the trickster and played a trick or two on Sigrid during their performance. By a silly dance, they tell us they celebrate for 3 days, but the main celebration is Christmas Eve starting around noon. The setting for her story takes place a farm, so she asked us to make farm animal noises, which the kids loved! Our Giuliana loved being a pig and a cow! At the end, Julenissen makes us all honorary mischief makers for the rest of the day. They involve the crowd and engage in a lot of bell ringing. They both stay for pictures after their little presentation.
Canada was one of my favorite Santas for years, Papa Noel! He was a lumberjack and had great stories! He has now been replaced with a band called Canadian Holiday Voyageurs, which take you on a magical voyage as you explore the Great White North. They are fun, but are always on our bonus list instead of our must-do! If you are walking through as they are playing, be sure to stop and enjoy!
In Mexico, step into Fiesta de Navidad with colorful dancers and mariachis. A young Mexican girl dances and the story is told of her origins. They are playing behind her and celebrating their heritage by dance. They pull children from the audience to learn traditional dances with them. A piñata is brought out in the shape of a star and a few kids have the chance to take a swing at it to reveal the contents. Candy is then distributed to the children, who participated. They end with singing “Feliz Navidad” with the guests in the audience. They also meet guests and will take a few pictures if anyone desires.
In Italy, we met La Befana, who told us about her first Christmas 2000 years ago. She is a good holiday witch, who conveys the story of the Epiphany in Italy, as well as some other holiday folklore. She explains that she is a gift-giver and comes down the chimneys of little bambinos to leave them treats. She differentiated between herself and the American Santa Claus, with two main differences of she arrives January 5th and flies on a broom stick instead of a sleigh. She portrays her story of being at the birth of Jesus. As she demonstrates the stars exploding in the sky and the sound of the angels singing as the Christ child was born; I had tears rolling down my face. Before she has to fly away, she poses for pictures with the little (and big) bambinos.
In China, you can experience the Chinese Lion Dance, which brings good fortune during the celebrations of Lunar New Year and the Lantern Festival. The lion (which is a large puppet with red fur and decorated in gold and is performed by two dancers inside) represents courage, stability, and triumph and is said to drive away evil spirits and negativity through song and dance. Our Giuliana loved watching this performance and said it reminded of her of the elephants at the circus climbing steps and doing tricks. These Holiday Storytellers were very entertaining to small children. The lion comes off the stage at the end and takes pictures with guests.
In Japan, you can meet a Daruma Doll seller portraying the Japanese New Year customs. She launches her monologue with teaching the guests “Happy New Year” in Japanese. She explains the Japanese bell ringing of 108 times, symbolizing the new start to the New Year. It is a time of reflection, family, friends, and feast. She concludes with continuing her Daruma Doll selling and taking pictures with guests by her cart.
In Morocco, a female storyteller, Taarji, shares the holiday traditions. She enlightens us on many customs, including the feast of Ramadan. She begins by playing a tambourine, dancing, and explaining that holidays are the spice of our life. Giuliana was mesmerized by her costume and demonstrative storytelling. She has a guest join her as Miss Roses when describing the Rose Parade that is popular in Morocco during the holiday season. She also has a couple join her to describe the marriage festival and the history of how freedom of marriage began. In concluding her performance, she has guests join her to dance. This storyteller is great on audience participation, but is never on the top of my must-do list. She stays for pictures with guests afterwards.
These are the Holiday Storytellers that appear throughout the Christmas Season at EPCOT’s “Holidays Around the World”, basically listed in OUR favorite order. Since we are all different, your list may differ from mine, so create your own magic and experience all that the holiday season has to offer at the most magical place on Earth!
Submitted By: Brooke Towe