Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World

Holidays Around the World at Epcot is your chance to celebrate traditions from other cultures around the globe.  This means the World Showcase comes to life with seasonal food, music, and costumed entertainers.  Each pavilion puts on a unique display that invites guests to join in the fun.  If this is your first visit to Epcot, you may get a little spoiled with all of this extra magic.  If you are familiar with this part of the park but new to the seasonal flavor, you are in for a real treat!  Today, let’s take a few minutes to detail what each pavilion has to offer.  Because I tend to veer left when entering the World Showcase, we will start at the Mexico pavilion and work our way clockwise around the Seven Seas Lagoon.

Let’s get started with our Know Before You Go Essential Facts:

  • This seasonal event is held at Epcot in the World Showcase
  • The event is included in your normal park admission
  • It runs from November 27 – December 30

Mexico

Featuring festive mariachi band music and dancing, the Mexico pavilion at Epcot brings the Fiesta de Navidad to life for the holidays.  Throughout the theme park's World Showcase, countries celebrate their own unique holiday traditions with storytellers and entertainment during Holidays Around the World. Epcot is located at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Chloe Rice, photographer)

First stop, Mexico!  Get ready for some lively music and colorful movement as Mexico proudly presents its Mariachi Band and dancers!  To kick things off, the Mariachi Band comes out playing their signature Christmas song, Feliz Navidad.  There is something about the crisp bright sound of the trumpets that puts me in a good mood.  Maybe it’s because it also makes me hungry for some good Mexican food!  Ooh, I could really go for some enchiladas right now.  Ok, sorry I got off track there, back to the music.  The band spends about 15 minutes serenading you in Spanish as they share some favorite Christmas songs.  Along the way, they tell some stories about Mexican Christmas traditions.  One of the fascinating things you learn is the history behind the Christmas poinsettia, or as they call them, the “flowers of the holy night.”  As the band plays they are joined by dancers that further bring the pavilion to life.  This is the place for a true party!  At one point all the children in the audience are invited to come up and join in.  They can shake maracas to their hearts’ content in one song, or dress up as characters in a story during another.  Near the end, they are each given a chance to break open the star shaped piñata and all get to enjoy a piece of candy for participating.  What a great way to start off the tour of the Holidays Around the World!

The performers appear daily at:

11:30, 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, 4:00, and 5:00

Norway

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A few steps around the showcase will bring you to Norway.  Here you are greeted by Sigrid, a warm inviting woman, eager to tell you all about the Christmas traditions of her homeland.  She stands on a small stage in front of the Norway pavilion surrounded by Christmas trees, wreaths, and gifts.  She begins by teaching you to say God Jul, or Merry Christmas in Norwegian.  She then explains the differences of city living vs. country living at Christmas time in Norway.  For those residing in the big cities, Santa Claus comes to visit in much the same way as he does in the United States.  However, for those living in the country, the merry gift giver is a little more mischievous.  Actually, according to legend he takes an entirely different form.  Rather than larger than life, he is a small gnome that typically takes up residence in the barns of country dwellers.  The barn Santa goes by the name Julenissen.  During the course of Sigrid’s 15-minute presentation, Julenissen appears to the audience.  Sigrid cannot see the gnome because she is slow to believe in his actual existence.  The result is a comical routine that entertains the audience as Julenissen constantly takes over Sigrid’s story without her knowledge.  Along the way, you learn some of the differences between Norwegian and American Christmas.  Perhaps the strangest difference is that Julenissen prefers a bowl of warm porridge over cookies.  I’m thinking he has never had a good chocolate chip cookie!  The story continues as Julenissen attempts to convince Sigrid he exists.  Will her eyes be opened to see what the audience does?  You will have to head over to Norway to find out!

Sigrid and Julenissen will be wishing everyone a God Yul daily at:

2:15, 3:00, 3:40, 4:30, 5:45, 6:30, 7:05, and 7:45

China

Performed in the China pavilion at Epcot, the Chinese Lion Dance honors holidays such as the Lunar New Year and Lantern Festival. Throughout the theme park's World Showcase, countries celebrate their own unique holiday traditions with storytellers and entertainment during Holidays Around the World. Epcot is located at Walt Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. (Charlie Champagne, photographer)

There is not a storyteller in China.  Well, that isn’t entirely true.  There is a story being told here, but it is being done through the artistry of dancers.  These skilled performers work together inside a giant golden lion costume to celebrate the New Year.  The lion dance has taken place in China for over 2,000 years as a way to celebrate lunar New Year’s celebrations and other important Chinese events.  For this culture, the lion represents courage, stability, and triumph.  Two dancers bring the lion to life to the sound of music.  This combination of dance and music is believed to drive away evil spirits and negativity.  The result is good luck and fortune for the community.

The dance is just over 5 minutes long and is a real feast for the eyes.  The strength and agility of the dance is impressive and the lion costume is beautiful.  The neat thing here is that you can go down and take pictures with the lion after the show.

The lion comes out to bless its audience for the new year at:

11:30, 12:30, 1:30 and 2:30

Germany

When you arrive in Germany, you will find Hilga outside in the local village.  She stands next to a large nutcracker and is surrounded by several familiar images associated with Christmas.  You soon discover that these familiar items are not only a part of the German Christmas tradition, but that many global Christmas traditions began in Germany.  For example, Hilga begins by telling you about her favorite part of Christmas, the Advent Calendar.  These daily calendars begin on Dec. 1st and go through Dec. 24th.  Each day the children of the house get to open one door on the Advent Calendar.  Inside they find a treat such as a piece of chocolate or a small toy.  What a great way to celebrate the Christmas season all month long!  In addition to the Advent Calendar, Germany is credited with the creation of the Nutcracker.  You will have to go see the show to see how the power of imagination can bring this well known toy to life.  Of course, the most iconic piece of Christmas decoration Germany claims first rights to is the tannenbaum, or Christmas tree!  I was not familiar with the story of the first Christmas tree until I heard it retold by Hilga.  This part of her presentation is my favorite!  Her face lights up as she tells of the night the German minister Martin Luther spotted a fir tree in the woods.  It was so beautifully lit by a bright evening star that it reminded him of the night Jesus Christ was born.  Eager to share this magnificent beauty he chopped down the tree and took it home.  Next, he secured candles on the ends of many of the tree branches.  When they were all lit, the tree sparkled in much the same way it had under the stars.  Martin Luther had created a way to celebrate the birth of Christ through a simple tree and lights.  Of course, Christmas tree decorations have come a long way since those humble beginnings, but isn’t that a great story?

Be sure and stop by Germany to hear this tale and the full story of how the Nutcracker came to be.  The usual times are:

1:00, 2:00, 2:55, 3:55, 5:30, 6:05, 6:40, and 7:15

Italy

A short walk from Germany will bring you to Italy where a very different type of storyteller awaits.  Here a gentle old woman with a broom stands outside.  Her name is La Befanda and she is the Christmas witch of Italy.  Now, she quickly assures you that she is a good witch, so small children need not fear.  In fact, she is the one that brings gifts to the good children of Italy or coal to those that have been naughty.  Good ole’ Saint Nick gets to take a break when it comes time to fly his sleigh over Italy.  La Befanda has been taking care of the children there for over 2,000 years!  She does so on the eve of Epiphany, or January 5th.  Why then and why no Santa?

Well, her story is perhaps the most fascinating of all the storytellers around the World Showcase.  As I said it begins over 2,000 years ago.  Back then La Befanda lived in a little cottage all by herself.  One night there was a group of foreign travelers that passed her home.  When she talked to the wealthy travelers she learned they were on their way to a town called Bethlehem.  This was a town unfamiliar to La Befanda so she asked why they were going there.  She discovered that the bright star which had been flooding the night sky with light was leading them to Bethlehem to visit a baby.  Not just any baby though, this baby was said to be a king!  The men were so sure of this and so excited that they asked La Befanda to join them in their journey.  She fought the burning desire inside her that urged her to go and told the men to continue without her.  However, she did not forget this encounter.  In fact, she continued to look up at that bright star in the sky and wonder what she had missed out on.  Soon, another traveler came past her cottage.  He was a shepherd and he too was on his way to Bethlehem.  He told La Befanda that the baby king was actually the son of God.  At this news the old Italian woman was overjoyed and decided to wait no more.

La Befanda set out to bring the baby Jesus a gift of her own.  What happened next is a little unexpected.  This is the point in La Befanda’s story that you learn how she became the gift giver to all the children of Italy.  So, what happened?  Well, for that you will just have to go visit La Befanda yourself!  I promise the end of her story will not disappoint.

To learn about this unique perspective of the first Christmas go by Italy at:

12:35, 1:30, 3:20, 4:15, 5:50, 6:40, or 7:40

The American Adventure

After you learn about the fascinating end to La Befanda’s story, you can walk over to The American Adventure.  There is a lot going on at the American Pavilion.  Here you can hear two different storytellers.  One will tell you the story of Hanukkah and the other story of Kwanza.  For time’s sake I won’t go into the details of these two stories here but be sure and check them out if you are unfamiliar with both holiday traditions!  The two storytellers have slightly different appearance times but will be in the American pavilion from 11:15 to 4:45.

Good things come in twos at the American pavilion, and here you can also find the most famous Christmas characters of all.  No, not Rudolph.  It’s Mr. and Mrs. Claus!  They are available for you to meet and take pictures with.

You can find the jolly couple here at:

1:30, 3:30, 5:30, and 7:30

Japan

And now time for something a little different.  Actually, the storytelling at Japan is dramatically different then anything you will find at any of the other pavilions.  Here, the celebration of the holiday centers around the New Year, not Christmas.  The Daruma doll seller gives an upbeat presentation as she explains the customs of the Japanese New Year.  Their traditional celebration of the New Year runs from January 1-7.  For most audiences this story will be brand new and the customs very different from anything found in the other pavilions of Western cultures.  For this reason, I think it is worth stopping to hear the 10-minute presentation.  You get to learn why New Year is the busiest time of the year for Japanese post offices.  Several weeks before the end of the year, the whole country is busy writing postcards for their respective friends and family.  These cards are then held at the post office and all delivered on January 1st!  Imagine everyone in America getting all of their Christmas cards delivered on the same day.  What a feat!

To learn more about the significance of the postcards as well as why a bell is rung 108 times visit the Japan pavilion at:

12:10, 12:50, 1:35, 2:20, 2:55, 3:45, 4:45 or 5:55

Morocco

In 2014 Epcot welcomed a new storyteller to Holidays Around the World.  The Morocco pavilion is now home to its own storyteller.  Now, this storyteller is not dressed in red or green, nor are they surrounded by any Christmas decorations.  As you soon come to find out, their story is not about Christmas, but rather the different festivals that are celebrated throughout the year in Morocco.  As she likes to say, “Celebrations are the spice of life!” and we know how much they like their spices in Morocco.  There are a some elements of audience interaction here and the presentation concludes with everyone being invited to join in a dance.

This is my least favorite of all the storytelling stops, but it is rather new so hopefully it will get better as it notches more seasons under its colorful belt.

If you want to see for yourself head over to Morocco at:

12:30, 2:00, 2:45, 4:20, 5:30, 6:05, or 7:20

France

Bonjour and Joyeux Noel!  Welcome to the French Pavilion and Merry Christmas.  Here, just outside the French gardens, stands a figure with a flowing white beard dressed in red.  He looks like Santa Claus might have looked before his bowl full of jelly filled with cookies.  However, he is not Santa, he is Pere Noel, or Father Christmas.  Now, I must admit, the sound of Santa’s slender French counterpart is a bit strange to me.  You know, hearing the French accent come from the jolly man in red is a bit different than the customary sound of “Ho, Ho, Ho.”  Still, the two happy gift-givers are more alike than they are different.  Just like kids that write to Santa, children in France write letters to Pere Noel.  For this storytelling experience, Pere Noel shares one of his favorite letters written into him from a little girl.  As he reads her letter you learn about the traditions of Christmas in France.  For example, instead of leaving a stocking hung by the chimney with care, children here leave a shoe for Pere Noel to fill with treats and goodies.  More important than the gifts is the nativity that children set up each year.  They call this the Creche and they take great care to set up Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus.  As part of his visit, Pere Noel adds a piece or two to the nativity after filling the shoes with gifts.  The traditions shared at the French pavilion are familiar enough for all to identify with, but just different enough to keep audiences engaged and attentive.  Father Christmas is warm and friendly, even if he does sound a little different.

Stop at France and spend about 10 minutes with Pere Noel at any of these times:

11:20, 11:55, 12:30, 1:15, 2:05, 3:30, 4:20 or 5:05

United Kingdom

When you are ready for a more familiar face, you can walk just a little further around the pond and find a larger than life Father Christmas at the United Kingdom pavilion.  The countries of England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales share their version of the Christmas gift-giver here at the UK pavilion.  Like Santa, he is rather large, has a rosy round face, and is quick to belt out a hearty “Ho, Ho, Ho.”  Actually, his is more of a laugh, and he is rather quick and loose with his words.  If I didn’t know better, I would think he had been spending a lot of time sampling the Christmas spirits at the nearby Rose & Crown Pub!  Needless to say, he shows little inhibition in welcoming his guests and is in a particularly good mood.  He is also quick to share his holiday cheer and usually invites one of the younger audience members up to help ring the jingle bells.  The whole audience will be asked to help sing some classic songs like “Deck the Halls” and “We Wish you a Merry Christmas.”   There is more merriment than story here at the UK.

To make certain you have a Happy Christmas, be sure and look for the bearded figure, crowned in a Christmas wreath, and dressed in green robes.  You can find him at:

12:30, 1:25, 2:20, 3:20, 5:40, 6:30, 7:30 or 8:30

Canada

Canada

We are going to wrap up our tour around the World Showcase with a stop at Canada!  Our neighbors to the North take you on a musical journey across Canada for your listening pleasure.  The band is compromised of members that originate from all over the different parts of the country.  They each bring the brand of music familiar to those regions.  With a variety of cultures found in Canada, there is a great mix of music presented in this 20 minute show.  Overall I would describe the eclectic mix of sound as French Canadian Country.  I don’t know if that is a real thing, but that’s what I’m going with.

If that sounds like music to your ears you can listen to the band in front of the Canadian pavilion:

11:20, 12:10, 1:05, 2:00, 3:00, and 4:30

Well, that was a fun trip around the World Showcase to explore Epcot’s Holidays Around the World!  One thing I want to mention is to check your time guide or My Disney Experience App when you actually go to the park.  The show times listed today are subject to change, and I don’t want you to miss out on anything.  If you were keeping a tally, the shows we discussed today total up over 2 1/2 hours of entertainment.  Of course, that doesn’t even begin to account for time spent walking the World Showcase for the great food, films, shopping and rides offered in this part of Epcot.  You could easily spend a full day in this half of the park just to see everything.  Be sure to budget plenty of time to enjoy all that this park has to offer.  If you’re thinking, “He  hasn’t even mentioned the special ending to Illuminations or the Candlelight Processional,”  well, don’t worry.  We are going to cover that thoroughly next week!  You see, there really is a lot going on at Walt Disney World for the holidays!

Please come back and join me again next week as we explore more together.  I have had a truly enjoyable time sharing this part of the Christmas Disney magic with you today.  I wish I could hop on a plane and go tomorrow to enjoy all of these seasonal treats.  That will have to wait a little longer for me though.  However, if you plan to be in the parks between now and Christmas, I would love to hear from you!  Let me know what your favorite part of the trip was.  Send me an e-mail at feedback@wdwrideguide.com.  Or share with the entire listener community by leaving a comment on our Facebook page.  If you want more great Disney info, be sure to follow us on Pinterest. For now, have a great week and remember to make each day a ride worth taking!

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