Christmas time may be my favorite time of year at Walt Disney World. I’ve made trips to take in the all of the holiday festivities for about five years now, and I look forward to it every time. Since Epcot is my favorite park year round, it’s no surprise that it would be my favorite place to hang out during the holiday season. World Showcase is the place to be, with each country decked out for the most wonderful time of the year. While I love to stroll around just taking in the scenery, I also really enjoy catching some of the Holiday Storytellers when I can. In each pavilion, one or more performers share their country’s holiday traditions with kids of all ages. So this week I thought I’d take a closer look at each of storytellers to help you better plan your Christmas activities at WDW!
Let’s get things started in Mexico and work our way around World Showcase Lagoon.
Mexico: Los Tres Reyes Magos (The Three Kings) explain how the Mexican people celebrate the posadas (meaning inns) prior to La Navidad, or Christmas. They tell guests about how Mexican children center their festivities around the holy family’s journey to Bethlehem for days. They travel to family and friends’ homes each night from December 16-24 in a candlelight processional. To recognize the day the three kings brought their gifts to the baby Jesus, children leave shoes on their doorsteps to be filled for Día de los Tres Reyes Magos, or Three Kings Day. The Christmas celebration is continued until February 2, when the Day of Purification officially ends that year’s festivities.
Norway: Sigrid tells the story of Julenissen, a mischievous gnome who visits the homes of Norwegian children. The Christmas celebration lasts three days in Norway! It begins on Christmas Eve when bells ring in all of the chapels in the afternoon to mark the beginning of the holiday. After a large feast, children leave a bowl of porridge for Julenissen to enjoy during his visit. They may leave this in the hay loft after they have fed their animals with the finest oats. The houses are lit only by candlelight in the evening when the Christmas tree is unveiled! This performance is one of the more humorous with Julenissen picking on Sigrid and making mischief.
China: Sun hou-kong, The Monkey King, tells his story of Buddhist enlightenment and helping others achieve it. The new year is the focus in China since many of its people practice Buddhism rather than Christianity and therefore do not celebrate Christmas. The Monkey King explains that though different cultures celebrate different holidays all of their traditions are based in love and we can all relate to that. His story is one of hope and good will with the coming new year. All of us wish for those at this time of year, no matter our faith.
Germany: Helga is the storyteller in Germany and she entertains guests with her examples of German Christmas traditions which have been passed on to other cultures. She starts by discussing the Advent calendar where children open a door each day in December until Christmas to get a small prize. The tradition of the Christmas tree was started in Germany when Martin Luther saw an ever green in the starlight. Since parents would decorate the tree with candy and nuts, the nutcracker was created so children could eat those nuts. As Helga gathers the children in the audience together to imagine the nutcracker coming to life he emerges to greet them! Even if you don’t catch Helga’s performance be sure the visit the German pavilion in December. I think it is the most festive of them all at this time of year!
United States: Here is the place to meet Santa and Mrs. Claus! Also a storyteller tells guests all about Kwanzaa, a holiday which originated here in America. It was created in the 1960s to celebrate African-American culture with seven principles called Nguzo Saba. A candle represents each of theses principles including unity, self-determination, collective work and responsibility, cooperative economics, purpose, creativity, and faith. The storyteller tells a fable about these principles and how they came to be so important to the African people. Kwanzaa is observed from December 26 – January 1, when 18 million people all over the world to celebrate their African heritage.
Since the U.S. also has a considerable Jewish population, a presentation on Hanukkah is given at the American Adventure. The storyteller shares how Jewish families celebrate this holiday commemorating the miracle of light when a small bit of oil burned for eight days. The storyteller then explains how families light the menorah and gather together for meals and gift giving for eight nights. Jewish families sing, play games, and make memories to celebrate the festival of lights. They celebrate their people’s perseverance against a much stronger army.
Italy: La Befana tells the story of how she brings gifts to children on the eve of Epiphany. She is a witch who flies on her broom from house to house, climbs down the chimney, and looks at the children to see if they are the Christ Child. She always leaves a little gift before she leaves. She does this because the wise men came to her and asked her to join them on their journey to Bethlehem, but she turned them down. By the time she changed her mind it was too late for her so now she treat each child as if they are the Baby Jesus.
Japan: A Daruma doll vendor tells the tale of how the daruma came to be when a Buddhist monk meditated for nine years after a long, hard journey. The daruma is now a good luck charm for the new year. When one is received you make a wish and paint the left eye, and paint in the other when that wish comes true. The Japanese celebrate the new year from December 31 until January 3 with family and friends. The sentiments of hope and good luck are celebrated at this time of year for the Buddhist people of Japan. They wish to start the new year with a clean slate. Bells ring on New Year’s Eve to announce the new year in temples throughout the country. New Year cards are sent, friends visit, and people go to their temple to pray for blessings for the new year.
Morocco: Taarji is a drummer and storyteller gathers people around to tell them about the holy celebrations of the Muslim people. Ramadan is a month long holiday to celebrate when Allah revealed the Quran. Devote Muslims all over the world fast during this month-long holiday when they fill themselves with reflection rather than food. He tells guests of the three day celebration at the end of Ramadan called Eid al-Fitr (the Festival of Fast-Breaking) filled with music. Ashura is the Muslim new year when traditional Moroccan dishes are served and children receive gifts. Bonfires are made throughout the country and kids dance and sing around them to observe Ashura while visiting with friends and family. It sounds like a beautiful occasion!
France: Père Noël is the French version of the beloved Santa Claus and he is skinny! He reads a letter from a little girl named Babette who would like a new “little saint” for her creche or nativity set. He explains the creche is the most important symbols of the season for the French people. Babette also complains about her brother, Francois, who does not believe in Père Noël, but changes his mind when Babette’s shoe left by the fireplace is filled with three “little saints” on Christmas morning. Père Noël also explains other French customs such as le reveillon, which is a traditional feast served after midnight Mass on watch night (Christmas Eve).
United Kingdom: Father Christmas is the star in the UK where he tells the audience about Christmas traditions which originated in his country. For example, the first Christmas card was sent in England! Kissing under the mistletoe also came from Britain and started with the Druids who would pluck a berry after each kiss until they were gone. Father Christmas even has a bit of mistletoe on his walking stick! While American children are used to Santa in a red suit, Father Christmas wears green, but still brings children presents on Christmas Eve if they have been good all year.
Canada: Here a lumberjack named Nowell who looks an awful lot like Saint Nick sits on a stage surrounded by a Christmas tree, snowshoes, and other wintery items tells guests about various celebrations among the different cultures in Canada. While many of their traditions are similar to those of American and European children, they have a few customs of their own. For example, the Inuit children must sing Christmas carols to appease the Naluyuks who are small stick carrying creatures sent to question the children about their behavior. Belsnickles are also mysterious creatures who may tie you up and take you away if you haven’t been good this year! French Canadian children enjoy a dinner served after midnight mass on Christmas Eve before Père Noël visits them. Many Canadians also celebrate Boxing Day on December 26 as a nod to their British heritage. As he tells his stories, he eventually puts on his red coat and hat to transform into Santa Claus!
Our Lines mobile app lists performance times for the Holidays Around the World Storytellers. Alternatively, you can pick up a Times Guide to see when the various storytellers will perform. Each pavilion also has a sign posted with show times as well as a sign posted discussing the country’s traditions. The international holiday stories are told from November 25 through December 30 this year, so be sure to check them out!