One of my favorite parts of Epcot is that it is a teaching park, it’s a place where you can go and learn about other cultures and other cuisines without having to pull out your passport. I especially love Epcot at Christmas time, the food is wonderful and the park is beautiful. And tonight I’m going to tell you one of the most interesting parts of Christmas at Epcot: learning about how other nations keep Christmas.
Canada doesn’t have a traditional Santa anymore since Lumberjack Nowell was retired in 2012. But what the pavilion does have are the Canadian Holiday Voyagers each representing a different region of the nation. They share holiday traditions in between musical numbers on the Mill Stage.
Sing Songs of the Season with Father Christmas himself as he tells his story to the boys and girls of all ages. Learn about the origin of the Christmas card, Mistletoe and other traditions that all started in the United Kingdom. He even leaves guests with quote from the Immortal Bard himself:
“Some say that ever ‘gainst that season comes Wherein our Saviour’s birth is celebrated, The bird of dawning singeth all night long. And then, they say, no spirit dare stir abroad. The nights are wholesome. Then no planets strike, No fairy takes, nor witch hath power to charm, So hallowed and so gracious is that time.” ~William Shakespeare.
Joyeux Noel from Pere Noel! He is the good spirit of the season (not to be confused with Pere Fouettard who disciplines naughty children). He tells the story about a little girl named Babette and how she and her brother and Uncle would celebrate Christmas in Provance. He tells about setting up the Crèche with Mary, Joseph and the Santons, or little saints made to look like the people of the village coming to greet baby Jesu. He tells about Babette’s first trip to Midnight Mass and how she set out a shoe for Pere Noel to fill before going to bed. When Babette woke up on Christmas morning she found gifts in her shoe and three new Santon at the crèche made to look like her family. Joyeux Noel indeed.
In the Japan Pavilion it’s time for the New Year. The vendor tells the tale of the Daruma doll. During the New year celelbration you buy a Daruma doll and make a wish while paining in one eye. When the wish comes true you fill in the second eye. The doll is named after Daruma, the creator of Karate. The doll is representative of perseistance, or the idea that if you get knocked down seven times, you get up eight times.
This story teller also tells of the foods and other celebrations at the new year. So あけましておめでとうございます。 (or Akemashite omedetou gozaimasu.)
The America Pavilion runs things a bit differently than the rest of the World Showcase. Instead of having a single storyteller they have two story tellers, Santa and Mrs. Clause, the Voices of Liberty and the Candlelight Processional.
The Storytellers here teach guests about Hanukkah and Kwanza as the two of the three holidays celebrated in America. At the Kwanzaa booth, the storyteller spins a legend that exemplifies the 7 pillars of Kwanzaa while telling guests about the history of the cultural holiday celebrated by many in our country.
Inside the American Adventure building you will find a small space decorated like a living room at Hanukkah. Here you learn about why the Menorah is lit, how to play the dreidel game and why Hanukkah is celebrated in the first place. So join in the tale of the miracle of the 8 days of light. When the tale is done the little ones are asked to come play dreidel for Chocolate coins. It’s a great way to spend the time before the Candlelight processional.
Buon Natale! Andiamo! Come Sit! I will tell you a Story today!” Befana is a ‘good witch’ with a name meaning ‘The Gift Giver’. She meets in the center of the Italy Pavilion to introduce others to the traditions of an Italian Christmas. She comes on January 6th, the Day of the Epiphany, or the day when the Wise Men found the Christ child to give him the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh.
Le Befana’s story starts: “I come in January, on the Eve of the Epiphany? Why? This is my Story…”
She was an old woman who lived in the Mideast over 2000 years ago. One night as she was sweeping up after work. As she is working a caravan of Camels comes. The men are from another land and are speaking words La Befana does not know. The one story she can understand is Bethlehem. They are the wise men following the Christmas Star. It takes them a while to explain their mission, but when they do they invite La Befana with them to give gifts to the baby king.
She declines their invitation and goes back to her daily life, every night wondering what it would be like to follow that star. One night a shepherd comes into her village telling the same story. As he is telling the star bursts with light and a whole choir of Angels appear singing. La Befana was so filled with joy that she rushed inside to find a gift to bring to the King. But once she has found all she had to give it was too late. The star had vanished into the night and La Befana didn’t know the way. So every year on the day that the Wise Men came to Jesus Le Befana goes in search of the Christ child leaving gifts for the good Children along the way.
Germany is another country that has contributed much of its Christmas traditions to the rest of the world. In Germany Storyteller Helga will tell guests all about it. She shares about the Advent Calendar, German cookies, the Glugg wine, and the Christmas decorations. The most famous of all: The Christmas tree.
Once upon a time there was a man named Martin Luther. One night he was walking through the woods thinking and praying about his Christmas eve sermon. As he was walking he looked up and saw the stars shining through the branches of an evergreen tree and he was reminded of the very first star that lead the Wise Men to Bethlehem. He was so overcome with joy that he cut down a tree and dragged it home and decorated it to share that joy with his family.
The second story starts with a Nutcracker. “We are in the land where dreams come true…” Helga asks the children to close their eyes and imagine that her Nutcracker could come alive and take them all to the land of sweets. She explains it all before opening her eyes and seeing her small Nutcracker still in her arms. But Helga is in for a BIG surprise, as are any of the children who were wishing with all their might. A life sized Nutcracker appears.
~Ich wünsche euch Frohes Weihnachtsfest!
This time you won’t find a storyteller, but you will find a lion, a Chinese Dancing Lion that is. The lion dance is a 2000 year old traditional dance performed at the Chinese New Year. The Dance is meant to bring the viewers good luck for the New Year.
Two acrobats in a giant lion puppet perform the Dance. The ears flap, the ears wiggle the mouth opens and closes as the dances leap and turn around the stage bringing the lion to life. It may not be a story, but it is a spectacular display that really shouldn’t be missed.
At this stop Sigrid tells us about Christmas in Norway. She tells how the children in the big cities. She tells about how Christmas is celebrated on the farms in Norway. Yulenissan the legendary Barn Santa is the traditional Gift Givers in the Norway. He is one of many gnomes that live in the haylofts of farms and give out gifts to good girls and boys. Now Nissan are also mischievous spirits, and Sigrid doesn’t believe in the one from her village, but he has also come in to visit. Everyone else can see him because they believe, but Sigrid can’t, so the Yulenissan decides to try to make her believe through Magic. He freezes her to tell his parts and plays tricks on her in hopes that this year she will see him.
She tells about the three-day celebration in Norway. They have parties and feasts and they open their presents on Christmas Night. This is one of the stories that is fully interactive as Yule Nissan picks a child to help him get Sigrid to believe. After Christmas Day the Norwegian families have a third day of Christmas on the 26th of December. Most of the day is spend with the family, but as night falls the children get dressed up and go Christmas caroling though out the neighborhood. This is the last piece of information that Sigrid gets to tell as Yule Nissan finally recruits the audience to try to help him with one last attempt to get her to believe in him. Spoiler alert: it works. What else did you expect from the Happiest Place on Earth?
After Sigrid finally believes the pair leave guests with the gnomish code: “I Swear…ooh its not nice swear…I promise to uphold the values of Christmas all through out the year. I also vow to eat as much porridge as possible!” This is probably the most humorous of the Santa Stories and shouldn’t be missed!
Feliz Navida! In Mexico the storytellers will spin yarns about of the Holiday Traditions of Mexico told by the Los Tres Reyes Magos, or the Three Wise Men themselves. This is the only story to have a tale told almost equally in two languages. One of the three Wise Men only speaks in Spanish as the others interact with him. They don’t directly translate, but the conversation flows in such a way that even the younger guests wills still be able to understand what is happening even if they don’t speak Spanish at home.
The traditions of a Mexican Christmas are twofold. Every night for nine days before Christmas itself, the villagers go from house to house to recreate the nine day journey of Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, at first they are turned away to remind them that when the savior was born there was no room for Him at the inn, but then the doors are opened and the celebration continues. On the night of Christmas they go to the church and bring small gifts to the Manger before celebrating with feasts and dancing and fireworks to remind them of the blessed Star. The second celebration happens on January 6th as children put out their shoes for Los Tres Reyes Magos to fill on their way to see the baby Jesu.
The encounter ends as they tell the tale of the Poinsettia. Once upon a time, a long time ago, a poor beggar boy had nothing to bring to the manger on Christmas Eve, so he stopped by the roadside to gather green branches to bring to the king. The other children mocked him and he turned away to leave as something magical happened. The plain branches in his hands bloomed with star shaped flowers of the deepest red hue. He presented them to the manger and from that year on the beautiful poinsettia can be found blooming across Mexico at Christmas time.
So Feliz Navidad from Mexico!
And a Merry Christmas Eve from me, may your Christmas time be full of peace, joy and love and may that continue on throughout the New Year!