It’s Christmas time again everyone and here at DisneyKate.com I’m starting the celebration early with the 25 days of Christmas. For the first couple of days I’d like to share with you a brief history of the holidays in the Parks. And for Day 1 we’re going back to the 1950’s.
So without further ado, here is a Disney Christmas History, Part 1.
Now anyone who has had the privilege to visit any of the Disney Parks during the holiday season knows that they really go all out during this time of the year. There is a special holiday parade in the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland. The Candle Light Processional is open and there are special fireworks, magical trees and even snow. But everything that we have come to recognize as a classic Disney Christmas was actually the result of years of Christmastime additions, most of which weren’t even present on the first Disneyland Christmas back in 1955.
According to the Disney History Institute (You can find them here, its really worth the read!) Disneyland had a very Spartan Christmas compared to what we’re accustomed to today. The reason was that attendance was pretty low during the first fall in the park, and at the time the park operating budget was completely separate from the greater Disney Company. That said, they did try their best to put on a great Christmas. There was a tree in the hub and decorations in Fronteirland as well as wreaths on Sleeping Beauty Castle.
In addition to the decoration Disneyland had two live shows for guests to enjoy. The first were the Dickens Carolers who performed at various locations through out the park during the day under the direction of long time Walt Disney friend Dr. Charles C. Hirt of the University of Southern California who played an active role in Disneyland Christmases in the next few years. . On Main Street, USA the bandstand was transformed into the “Disneyland Christmas Bowl” for the season. Here visiting choirs were asked to perform for visiting guests. To the open the season Hirt had the Dickens Carolers and a 300 member choir perform on the platform and steps of the Main Street Station.
Parades have always been a key component to Disney Christmas celebrations. For the first Christmas at Disneyland the cast members transformed the Mickey Mouse Circus Parade into the Christmas Circus Parade and March of the Toys. Unlike the modern parades, these events typically happened at both the afternoon and evening parade times.
In this year Disney continued its traditional March of the Toys down Main Street USA. And the caroling expanded to become known as the official Disneyland Bowl (which had far outgrown the small stage in Main Street). The singing groups now performed on the steps of the Disneyland Railroad Main Street Station allowing guests to gather around the area just inside the gates of the park.
1957 saw the beginning of a new Christmastime parade at Disneyland. It was called Christmas Around the World Parade and it ran until 1964, and again from 1980 to 1985. As the parade flowed down Main Street USA, it was trailed by a massive group of Carolers and Choirs from around the area further expanding the caroling tradition at Disneyland
After the huge popularity of the carolers in the first three years of Christmas at Disneyland Dr. Hirt wanted to expand the event, so In 1958 one of the longest standing Disney Christmas traditions was born with the advent of the Candle Light Processional.
Two nights in December members from 16 choirs made their way down Main Street USA to gather on the steps of the Disneyland Railroad’s Main Street USA platform where they would sing Christmas carols while the Christmas story was read outloud. While the processional was known for the guest narrators the Christmas story. Early Narrators included Carry Grant, John Wayne, Buddy Epson and Jimmy Stewart. In years since dozens of names have been added to that list including Disney Stars like Jodi Benson, Robby Benson, and new this year will ne Ming-Na Wen and cultural icons like Patrick Steward, James Earl Jones and more.
1958 also saw the beginning of the ‘Living Christmas Tree’ performed by Western High School A’Capella Choir. The group would perform on staggered risers placed in Town Square that made the group look like a singing Christmas tree. The performance was later incorporated into the Candlelight Processional when it was moved into Town Square in the 1960s.
If you want to read more about what I’ve written above you can check out my references below:
Disneyland The First Christmas. Online. Available. December 1, 2016. http://www.disneyhistoryinstitute.com/2015/12/disneyland-the-first-christmas.html
Disney’s Candlelight Processional Through The Years. Online. Available. December 1, 2016. https://d23.com/disneys-candlelight-processional-through-the-years/
Epcot Candlelight Processional Names more Celebrity Narrators. Online. Available. December 1st 2016. http://thedisneyblog.com/2016/10/26/epcot-candlelight-processional-names-celebrity-narrators/
Disneyland Parade Timeline. Online Availabe. December 1, 2016. https://www.jansworld.net/dl-parade-timeline.html
The History of Two Disney Christmas Traditions. Online. Available. Debember 1st 2016. https://www.mouseplanet.com/8691/The_History_of_Two_Disney_Christmas_Traditions
Today in Disney History, the First Candle Light Processional. Online Available. December 1st 2016. https://disneyparks.disney.go.com/blog/2013/12/today-in-disney-history-first-candlelight-ceremony-and-processional-held-at-disneyland-park-1958/