Epcot is family-friendly year-round, but never more so than at Christmas, when each of the World Showcase pavilions plays host to storytellers from around the world. Costumed interpreters in each of the park’s 11 countries bring centuries-old traditions from their homeland to life, through song, dance and captivating story-telling. Let’s take a look at the entertainment on offer for 2014:
Mexico’s popular Mariachi Cobre band presents a new show this year, Fiesta de Navidad, with Mexican Christmas carols, colourful costumed dancers, and the chance for children to join in the fun (maracas feature heavily here!). In between songs, the band members tell guests about the country’s holiday traditions, including a delightful reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s arrival in Bethlehem, during which children in Mexican villages go house-to-house until one family finds room to let them in, and that’s when the party—and the piñata fun!—begins.
Norway’s tradition of the Nisse, the mischievous ‘barn Santa’, is told here, as it is in rural parts of the country where farmers believe the imp acts as their protector. In return, the Nisse is rewarded with a bowl of buttery porridge on Christmas Eve—and heaven help the farmer who forgets the butter!
New for 2014, China’s costumed interpreters perform the Chinese Lion Dance in dramatic style, and children are especially captivated by his silly antics. True to China’s tradition of high-energy drama, this two-person ensemble’s skill is immense, and it’s easy to believe this vibrant red lion is a living being. The lion “spreads good fortune to all” in humorous style, ensuring the coming year will be prosperous.
Germany is the birthplace of many of the Christmas customs celebrated around the world, and here Helga tells the story of the Advent Calendar and the Christmas tree, traditions which originated in her home country. The feel-good factor here is undeniable, full of comfortable familiarity.
Italy has its own version of Santa Claus, but in this case it’s a woman. More precisely, it’s the witch La Befana, who is the gift-giver. La Befana comes down the chimney on Epiphany (6 January) and leaves presents for good children and coal for naughty children. She tells her story in Epcot before setting off to wander the Italian countryside in search of Baby Jesus.
American Adventure is the place to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus, and to hear the stories of Christmas, Hanukkah, and the uniquely American holiday of Kwanza. The United States is known as the ‘melting pot’ of cultures, and the variety of cultures and beliefs honoured in the pavilion is a nod in that direction.
New Year is the big celebration in Japan, and Epcot’s storyteller weaves her tale as the seller of Daruma dolls, the bringers of luck. Daruma, representing the Buddha, are filled with symbolism, and reminders to persevere all year long if we hope to achieve success.
Morocco’s new-for-2014 show tells a somewhat different story, featuring the traditions of the olive, almond, rose, and date harvest festivals. Live music, song, and dance are equally important, as is storytelling, and the story of the Festival of Marriage is told here, just as it is in Morocco, passing the legend down from generation to generation. The country’s holy holiday of Ramadan is described, tying in the universal similarities of fasting, feasting, and joyful celebration.
France’s cousin to Santa Claus, Pere Noel, welcomes visitors with an enthusiastic “Joyeux Noël”, telling the country’s traditional story of ‘watch night’, when French families gather around the fire and recount the tale of Babette and Francois setting out the crèche in anticipation of Jesus’s birth, then setting their shoes out for Pere Noel to fill.
The United Kingdom’s Father Christmas ‘comes a wassailing’, gathering guests together to hear about the UK’s contributions to the world’s seasonal traditions and to sing the traditional Welsh carol, Deck the Halls.
Canada’s Canadian Holiday Voyagers share the regional holiday traditions of their homeland, through lively renditions of holiday tunes delivered in an energetic style that makes them a firm favourite of repeat visitors.
But World Showcase isn’t the only place ringing in the season in high style. Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season performs several times daily in the plaza just beyond the fountain in Future World, and their cheerful harmonies put a gospel spin on holiday classics.
And, of course, the headline attraction of any Christmas at Epcot is the stirring Candlelight Processional, with a celebrity narrator telling the story of Christ’s birth, and seasonal selections sung by a massive choir, with musical accompaniment compliments of a 50-piece orchestra. The outdoor American Gardens Theater is the setting, and the effect is even more magical at twilight.
Guests begin queuing up to several hours before show time, but the theatre is large enough that most guests are able to get a seat for one of the three shows (5pm, 6.45pm, and 8.15pm). If you want a guaranteed up-close view, consider booking the Candlelight Processional Dining Package, which includes lunch or dinner at select Epcot restaurants, and priority seating for the show. Park admission is required, and pre-booking up to 180 days in advance is highly recommended. The Candlelight Processional takes place right the way through December.
The day’s grand finale takes place on World Showcase Lagoon, where the nightly IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks and laser light show is capped off with a holiday closing, sure to bring a tear to your eye and a sparkle to your Christmas season.
It is easy to make a full day of it at Epcot, and we recommend touring one of two ways: either spend a day in Future World and return for a day enjoying the festivities in World Showcase, or plan two half-days in each area, ensuring you see all of the holiday entertainment. Your 14 Day Ultimate pass allows you access over the course of two weeks, and we think it’s worth dedicating at least two days to Holidays Around the World to kick off your Christmas with just the right spirit, as only Disney can do.