Talking Disney Parks Holidays With The Authors of “Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World From Fall to Winter”

To celebrate Halfway to the Holidays at the Disney Parks, I recently sat down with the authors of Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter, Graham Allan, Rebecca Cline, and Charlie Price.

Together, we discussed the evolution of holiday celebrations at the Disney Parks, from their origins as a circus at Disneyland, all the way to the holiday celebrations of today. From attraction overlays in the winter, to rare terror-filled experiences in the fall, no stone is left unturned as we look at the evolution of holiday fun past and present at the Disney Parks around the globe.

The Beginnings

Tony:

Evolution's a fun word, so what would be the first Galapagos Island-style step in the evolution at the Disney Parks? Obviously it comes from Disneyland, right? (Jokingly) Was it the star on the Matterhorn, or something else?

Rebecca Cline:

Oh, no, that came along much later, because the Matterhorn wasn't built until 1959. We were doing celebrations at Disneyland as early as 1955.

Graham Allan:

Yeah, and when you're talking about evolution, where Disneyland started and where parks are today are worlds apart.

Rebecca Cline:

The very first year that Disneyland was open, 1955, so the very beginning of holidays at the parks, because it's the very first park, happened in 1955. Walt wanted to celebrate the holidays at Christmas time, and so he decided to do something very special, which he had other things going on. The park didn't have a lot of money for special events and things in the earliest years, and so they didn't have a lot of plans for big parades and there weren't fireworks, there weren't big shows like we do today. And so what they did is he decided to amalgamate a few ideas that he had; one of which was to put a circus at Disneyland.

He wanted to have a real three-ring circus with a striped big top and present it on property at Disneyland, and he wasn't ready with it at the opening of the park, obviously, and it didn't open that way, but he really wanted to do it, and so he created this circus and then he thought, well, I can just launch it at Christmas time and make it a Christmas parade/circus parade. But then he also, that fall of 1955, launched several television shows on what they called Disneyland, which became Wonderful World of Disney. He also had launched The Mickey Mouse Club, which at that time was one of the earliest children's television shows. Mickey Mouse Club and Disneyland's first fall season and the opening of this circus all came together at the same time. He created this really interesting event for the first Christmas at Disneyland, which was Thanksgiving day in November of '55.

They had a big circus parade with calliopes and live animals and circus clowns and everything, going down Main Street, steaming calliope and all, going from Main Street, all the way down to the location where the big top tents were in Fantasyland, in the area that is now… I guess, if you know the park well, it's the area between the Matterhorn and It's a Small World. That area right there was where that was set, over there next to Storybook Land Canal Boats, and that's where… It had this parade, this great, big circus parade, while they also included the Mouseketeers in the parade as participants, but they also participated in the Mickey Mouse Club Circus. And they called it the Mickey Mouse Club Circus to advertise the Mickey Mouse Club.

Tony:

Synergy, I believe, is the word.

Rebecca Cline:

Yes. With menagerie animals and everything else, high wire acts, plus you had the Mouseketeers doing acrobatic acts and animal acts and clown acts, mixed in with these professional circus performers. And then the whole finale of the thing was Santa Claus coming in on his sleigh, and a giant white Christmas tree rising up out of the center of the big top, with a star at the top, playing Jingle Bells, and everybody walking around the big top singing and playing instruments. It was very spectacular, and so that was the first Disneyland in 1955. That was the first Christmas. Well, of course the circus didn't last that long. It was only around for that year, and a few pieces of it lasted longer, but they decided that people wanted to come to Disneyland to go to Disneyland and ride the attractions and things like that, and so the circus went away pretty quickly.

But the other really important thing that happened in the early years of the park was they had groups that would come, and they did a thing called the Christmas Bowl, which was down near the castle, just to the left of the castle as you're looking at it, where Carnation Plaza and that whole area now is, there was a pavilion. There was a town square pavilion that was there, and they dressed that up and used that, and they'd bring in guest choirs and people from all over the west, and they would come and perform; similar to what we do with Magic Music Days today, they would bring in guest groups who would perform, and they had them at the Christmas Bowl. They would do pageants and presentations and singing and so forth.

Rebecca Cline:

These choirs would perform various days, but one day they decided, in 1956, to bring all these choirs together and sing on the steps of the Main Street Train Station, and so that was the very genesis of Candlelight. And of course, Candlelight is our longest tradition at the parks. It's something that we still do, and it started out as this little group of singers, with the band playing, and a few Dickens carolers on the train steps, and now, today, it's this magnificent concert.

Tony:

I've seen it at EPCOT 

Rebecca Cline:

Yes. At Disneyland it's even more magnificent, I think, because it takes over the whole train station and it's up high and it's a bit different. It's wonderful at both places. And actually, Graham and I have both performed in it over the years. That's how we met.

Graham Allan:

That's how we first met.

Tony:

Now I have to ask who the narrator was when you guys performed.

Rebecca Cline:

Oh, we performed for several years.

Graham Allan:

Oh, well, it was, yeah, 1995, right? Was the first- year that we sang in it.

Rebecca Cline:

I think it was John Forsythe? Is that who it was? Or David Ogden Stiers?

Graham Allan:

David Ogden Stiers, that's it.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, it was David Ogden Stiers. We met in the Disney Employee Choir, and we both performed at Disneyland and Walt Disney World, so that's something that is near and dear to both of us. And I can go on and on. There's a lot more about the early years of the winter holidays at Disneyland, but those are the two biggest things that started Disneyland.

Holiday Services

Tony:

From Disneyland to Walt Disney World, we went from one park to a full warehouse dedicated just to holiday stuff. How did that happen?

Graham Allan:

There's more than one warehouse.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah.

Charlie Price:

There's five

Tony:

There's one in Florida that usually has Christmas trees parked outside. I'm not going to say where it is, just in case.

Graham Allan:

Actually, I don't know that they're a secret, because as you say, there's often large props. Even here, in Southern California, it takes three warehouses to hold all the holiday goodies. And “holiday,” of course, covers Halloween and the fall holidays, not just the winter holidays. But yeah, in Florida, there's four enormous warehouses. It's over 300,000 square feet of warehouse space for holidays. The one that's, I'll say, famous, at least in the before times, there was tours offered to guests, is behind the Magic Kingdom, and that's the production facility where the people that are doing the refurbishing and the creation, but there's another three warehouses that are purely storage, including one that's halfway out to Port Canaveral, where all the cruise materials are stored. There's a lot. There's a lot.

Tony:

Yeah, and like you said, it's just decorations, and you have everything from big [decorations, like] the iconic pumpkin at the end of Main Street, to little things. We have a fan on staff of the ornament kick line at Hollywood Studios, in the window, of all those little things like that. Which one is the one that's irreplaceable? The one you can’t change, of those little things.

Graham Allan:

That's, I think, a little bit of the magic that the decorators are able to create, is the vast majority of the ornaments that you see are commercially produced ornaments. The Disney magic is how they are assembled in ways that support and tell the story and the theme of the area. Once you start noticing these things, and unfortunately, we're now in that camp where we can't not notice these things, when you start learning things, is you will see the same ornament appear in two or three different locations, but it looks different, because of the setting or because of the other ornaments that there are around it, or because of the color palette of the garland. And I'd say that's the magic of the decorating team that assembles all of this, is just how they put all these components together to really support the theme of the story of an area.

And if you're talking about evolution, these are constantly changing. Everything is cleaned and refurbished every year at a basic level, but they have a life cycle of, Depending on the items, somewhere between three to five years for normal ornaments, or the big trees may last as long as 25 years. When they do a big refresh, they'll do a complete redesign. They'll do a ground up redesign and re-imagining, and it's just been amazing. We were amazed and really pleased to get the chance to actually meet these people and talk to these people, because they'd be away, really out of sight all year long, and they're amazing. They're talented artists.

Charlie Price:

And beyond that, the amount of knowledge that they have, and research, you could go down an aisle with them and point out to something and they'll tell you exactly where that goes.

Tony:

In the 300,000 square foot warehouse?

Graham Allan:

Yeah, oh yes.

Charlie Price:

Things that are iconic, like the giant Mickey pumpkin in the tree, obviously those are… Even though they switch those out, those are irreplaceable, but everybody has their particular things, their particular ornaments. Even among us, we all have our things that each time we go, you have to go and see it, because that's just part of your tradition that you have. It really does vary for every single person, considering that things do slightly change from year to year, and we are those people that are like, "Oh, that thing is different, that thing is different." We know we're not alone in that.

Graham Allan:

Well, that's why we get to call ourselves researchers or historians. That's our storybook. But you know that the evolution happens for lots of reasons. It's not just that things wear out and have to be replaced.

Evolution Evolves

Graham had a virtual background during the interview that featured the wreaths that have adorned Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom for the last several years.

Tony:

Can I point out the wreath behind you right now? Because the wreath behind you definitely happened for a reason, because it used to be the garland strings across Main Street, and then here comes a parade (Festival of Fantasy) that's too big, so now we have to take those away, but we can't take the wreaths off Main Street.

Graham Allan:

That's right, and that happened in 2014, but last year they changed again. The same structure, but for the 50th anniversary, the whole color palette for the decor around Magic Kingdom has changed. And even though it's the same physical structure, it looks quite different, because the color palette. And so actually anniversaries have often been a catalyst for change. Disneyland did it for the 50th and the 60th. Disneyland Paris did it for the 25th, where the whole Christmas holiday color scheme was blue and silver. Everything, even the trees were spray painted.

Tony:

This year, theirs will be different too?

Graham Allan:

Very likely, yes, for their anniversary.

“Green Disappears at Animal Kingdom”

Graham went back into how everything evolves, specifically referencing Walt Disney World’s fourth theme park.

Graham Allan:

Look at something like Animal Kingdom, where for many years they decorated with what you would call traditional Christmas decor, but the decorators were never really completely satisfied by it, because green disappears in Animal Kingdom. Green garlands kind of vanish into the landscape, so they thought real hard about, how do we find a story that works? A story that will work for the season, for the time of year, but that will be appropriate for Animal Kingdom, but that will actually look different? And that's how, in 2019, they came up with the whole winter solstice theme. They redid, top to bottom, the whole decorating package with white, and winter solstice theme, winter animals, like polar bears, penguins, Arctic foxes, things that pop against the greenery, but layered in stories around those.

The characters that you meet, the polar bear has a story. The fox has a story, the penguin has a story. Then, also the notion that Animal Kingdom celebrates parts of the world that don't necessarily acknowledge the same holidays that we do, like Christmas or Hanukkah, and the winter solstice is a different dimension of holiday, and something that can maybe play to a broader audience or a different audience and have more people feel that they're seeing their holidays, and it worked on a bunch of levels. That was also the year that they started decorating Pandora. There had also been an interesting challenge as well, they're obviously not celebrating Christmas on another planet, but maybe they are, because it's the expats from Earth running the tour company that are doing that. It's just always changing. It's always evolving.

Charlie Price:

And everything really does kind of start in a very small town feel, or things start small. They start to see what the guests resonate with and then it eventually evolves. All those different Christmas pageants or Christmas shows were small, Halloween was very small as well, all the parades started very, very simple, and then whatever really resonates with the guests, they start to go towards that and really start to evolve it over time. That is pretty standard among all of the parks. If you look at, say for instance, the Halloween parades, they were all very, very simple, and now they're all very elaborate.

Tony:

Yes. Arguably the best parade at Magic Kingdom.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah. And that also goes with the attraction overlays, and those getting richer and richer.

Attraction Overlays and A…Scary?!…Halloween

Tony:

We've been talking about decorations, we haven't even touched attractions yet. I'll go back to that little thing again, you kind of talked about it Charlie, with the [fans] latching on. The gingerbread house in Haunted Mansion Holiday, I remember the first few years, it was just that weird trivia. A cast member might tell you, "Hey, the gingerbread house changes every year, and now it's the big marketing, "Check out this year's new gingerbread house!"

Rebecca Cline:

Oh, yeah.

Charlie Price:

Yeah. And even for that, they didn't necessarily know what they were going to do that first year, in terms of they have to take it down an elevator in order to bring it in. They didn't measure it before, so they had to chop it up and they were there for days. Now they have a process and they work on it. I'm sure it's already halfway done. They started in January of the beginning of the year, and then it's done right before, a few weeks before. But even that whole process of how they evolved over time in picking different themes, yeah, that was something that was one of those happy accidents, because you can't necessarily keep that gingerbread all year round, so they were fortunate enough to do it.

Tokyo does have a standard gingerbread house, but that's not made out of real gingerbread. That's the same one every single year. But theirs is a little different. They have the same layout as [the Haunted Mansion] at Walt Disney World, so they have a few different things. They were the first one to have Sally, but yeah, that really was a great evolution over time with that group.

Using the classic Haunted Mansion Holiday experience as a jumping off point, we dove deeper into the world of seasonal attraction overlays.

Tony:

Correct me if I'm wrong; It's a Small World, was that the first one?

Graham Allan:

Country Bears.

Tony:

Oh yes. I forgot about Country Bears.

Graham Allan:

Country Bears in 1984 at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Charlie Price:

And as Graham pointed out to me yesterday even, the longest run currently is Country Bears, it's the version in Tokyo.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, they still do it.

Graham Allan:

They still do their version of the Christmas one, Jingle Bell Jamboree, so I'd say Tokyo, they cycle through all through three Country Bear shows in the course of the year. The four months for each, essentially. Each one gets four-ish months in the theater. Yes, I actually have no idea what their schedule is for this year, but in past years, that has certainly been… Go there if you want to see the Christmas Country Bears. It's also little things, like the organ at the Swiss Family Treehouse, the soundtrack would get switched out. I don't know if you consider that an attraction [overlay].

Rebecca Cline:

Like O Tannenbaum and things?

Graham Allan:

Yeah.

Tony:

Swiss Family Treehouse Christmas.

Graham Allan:

Do you consider the Osborne Lights an overlay, or is that just decorations?

Tony:

I would call that “special entertainment.”

Graham Allan:

Okay, because that one came next. That would be '95 would be the Osborne Lights, and then Small World.

Tony:

Well, because you could walk through it, right? It wasn't on the tram?

Graham Allan:

Yeah, actually, the first year was not on the tram. They closed the tram route. Actually you drove the tram route during the day and then at night, they put the trams away and you could walk along the street and take it in at your pace.

Okay that was '95. '97 was Small World and Storybook Land. Those overlays both came in and-

Tony:

I never realized Storybook Land did it.

Charlie Price:

Yeah, they actually had a… Some of the cast members were very eager to decorate, and so Walt Disney Imagineering came in and said, "Okay, we will put a few things in the attraction." And it is so charming. A lot harder to see at night, but during the day it is very charming and it boasts the smallest Christmas tree in all the resort.

Rebecca Cline:

Small wreaths too, I think.

Graham Allan:

Yeah, actually smallest everything. The smallest Christmas tree at the Disneyland Resort, four inches tall. And it is, actually, it is utterly charming. And it's such a simple idea. And it's not trying to be anything more than just very basic trees and garlands and wreaths on the buildings, but it's beautiful. It's really well done [and] It's not really advertised.

Charlie Price:

It's a happy accident for a lot of people, going like, "Oh!"

Rebecca Cline:

And then, of course, there was also the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay (Haunted Mansion Holiday), but also then the Jingle Cruise.

Graham Allan:

The Jingle Cruise, yep. 2013 for the Jingle Cruise.

Tony:

Yeah, and that's just Christmas, because I know Halloween, you had Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy.

Charlie Price:

Yeah, yeah.

Tony:

And that's in Hong Kong also.

Charlie Price:

That's where it originally started. They actually had a test version at Disneyland, called “Nightmare Nebula,” which was all the dark and different characters cackling, usually a lot of Disney villains. But it was only for one night and they never brought it back.

Tony:

Can we stay overseas for a minute and talk about Hong Kong's Halloween? Because they do something no other Disney Park, to my knowledge, does. I think maybe Studios Paris does it, but [offers] actually scary things.

Charlie Price:

Yes, Paris used to have “Terrorific,” and “Terrorific” was vastly different from anything you would see at any typical Disney Park. They would have characters like demons and people with chainsaws, and they'd have a tram route, so it kind of had a Universal Studios feel, but that was very brief. That was a two-year period that they had that version, but yes, the haunted houses, they brought those in. The audience really wanted it. That park's a little bit smaller and the attendance is a little bit different, so they were able to put that in, which would give reasonable wait times when they'd… It's usually, it has some sort of Disney-esque theme, especially lately. They have a Nightmare Before Christmas one, they had a couple different characters. Usually it was a nightmare version of all your favorite Disney and Pixar characters.

Charlie Price:

Some of them were just plain scary, like Disciplinarian, who wants to breed the future of evil through fear. They had their variety of them, but they really understood what their audience wanted and they'd switch it out every two or three years. They also had one where the Headless Horseman would chop off everybody's head and he'd come after you and you'd have to escape through a side exit. Yeah, it was fantastic. You could find a few of them now, videos on YouTube. Prior, they used to not… You didn't really see much filming inside of those, but they do have much more scary element, as… Graham's been there in person, and you can see during the daytime and the nighttime is a very different feel of that park.

Graham Allan:

Mainly the decor. Seriously, the entertainment experiences in both Paris and Hong Kong have softened a little in recent years, a little bit more towards the family, but you walk around Hong Kong Holidays, the figures that they have, even around the hub area, are quite striking. They're not the family friendly thing that you would put your little toddler up against for a hug. They're quite mean looking, so they've definitely clung onto a little bit edgier of a tone.

Tony:

They have a walkthrough haunted house on Main Street there, don't they?

Graham Allan:

Yeah, not quite on Main Street, but yes, it's around Adventureland, but yes, it's a walkthrough. That's what Charlie was referring to, that it's actually a space that can be reconfigured in many, many ways. And so they've typically built the sets and the story and kept them for two or three years, and then reinvented the space and reinvented the Halloween space. But yeah, it's a walkthrough kind of a haunted host experience.

Charlie Price:

The first one was very much based off the Haunted Mansion. It was off of a side street and it was a haunted hotel.

Tony:

That's what I was thinking of, yeah.

Charlie Price:

Yeah, that's how they leveraged off that, and then they're like, "Okay, what else could we do? What else?" They had the Demon Cruise, which was the Jungle Cruise, and there were these monstrous vines that would pull people in. They had screens to show that, and their Jungle Cruise is different in terms of layout. It's more of, think of going around our Tom Sawyer's Island, that's basically what theirs is. It has a different element to it.

Tony:

And I thought the scariest thing Disney had ever done was the Fort Wilderness Trail Rides, with the Headless Horseman coming after you in the woods in the night.

Charlie Price:

My friend still has nightmares over that, because it looked like he really swung at you, the way that that would go. He was like, "Wait, I thought this was… Isn't there supposed to be some distance here?:

Tony:

No, I agree with your friend, because I did it again once in 2006, or maybe it was '07, but there was definitely that motion and it was way too close for my comfort. And my buddy was like, "Oh, want to go do it again?"

Tony:

"No, I'm good. I did it once."

Charlie Price:

Yeah, it gave you a free shave. You got two for one there.

Holidays In The Sky

We then took a look not so much at the attractions on the ground, but the entertainment in the skies above Disney Parks during the holiday celebrations.

Rebecca Cline:

Going back to the early years of some of our park holidays, the fireworks spectacular is also something. The parades have, of course, grown over the years, but the firework shows and everything, for many, many years, at Disneyland and at Walt Disney World, they just did Fantasy in the Sky, and I think they might have a special finale or something to mark an event, but that has so dramatically changed over the years by, not just at the holidays, but over the years, adding in fireworks, especially for the autumn holidays and for Halloween, but also just changing and having snow on Main Street to accompany the fireworks.

Tony:

That was Believe in Holiday Magic, right? When the snow came?

Graham Allan:

That was the first all holiday show. Prior to that, at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, for Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, there was a holiday tag added to Fantasy in the Skies and in Wishes, when Wishes took over. That was the first 360 degree fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, was the Very Merry Christmas Party tag, and then Holiday Illuminations at EPCOT actually would be the first true end-to-end holiday nighttime show, then Believe at Disneyland, and then every park now does an entire holiday themed show. It's not just the regular show with something. By the way, we have snow year round here at Disneyland. We have the snow now for the Frozen section of Disneyland Forever. Snow is no longer just a holiday thing here at Disneyland. You can have snow in 90 degrees here in July, if you want.

Tony:

While we're talking about the snow, quick personal question; do we like the snow at Disneyland or the snow at Magic Kingdom, where they run it throughout the whole party, as opposed to just during the finale?

Charlie Price:

I grew up in Southern California, and I think it's the surprise of just having it for that moment, where the lights dim and you hear the music-

Rebecca Cline: 

I agree.

Graham Allan:

I agree.

Charlie Price:

… and it's just there for that little, little time, and it's just a sweet surprise that everybody looks up and you see people silhouetted against the lights and the snow coming on, and it's like, "Please don't eat that snow." But it feels like a very touching moment, at least that's for me.

Rebecca Cline:

And I particularly like watching the children when that happens, because they don't know how it's being done, how it's being… The magic of Disney, but to see, especially down in Southern California, and I assume so in Florida, of seeing those children the first time that it starts snowing on them, most of them have never seen snow. And they certainly haven't seen it happening above them. A lot of them have only experienced it by driving up in the mountains to play in the snow for the day, or something like that, or visiting family elsewhere, but to see these little ones suddenly realize that it's actually snowing on them is just priceless.

Graham Allan:

I think, you made a distinction of Florida doing it through the party, and California, a little bit less, a piece of that is simply opportunity. Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party just presents more opportunity to do something like that, then to just run it more than just the parade or more than just the fireworks. Here in Disneyland, we haven't really had quite as many of those opportunities, and last year for the Merriest Nights, they did snow just a little bit more. I think for things like the castle lighting moment now, they'll do a little bit of snow. I think it's being added, but there has to be a reason. You can't just start snowing for any reason. It has to belong. And I think Very Merry Christmas Party just offered more opportunity for that, for that creative outlet. Disneyland's catching up though.

Tony:

Now, I'm a big EPCOT fan. I'd be remiss if we didn't talk about the Lights of Winter for a moment.

Graham Allan:

Yes.

Rebecca Cline:

That's also Graham's. That's a question for Graham.

Tony:

I saw his eyes lights up. Graham, what do you want to say about the Lights of Winter?

Graham Allan:

Well, I was a big fan. I was sorry to see them go. EPCOT was not the first Lights of Winter. Paris was the first Lights of Winter. They were erected over Main Street in Paris in 1993, and it's a European thing. It's an Italian tradition of luminaria hanging across the streets all winter long, not just a Christmas decoration, all winter long. And it was such a hit in Paris that EPCOT essentially copied the structures and the design and erected it along the walkway between Future World and World Showcase. At EPCOT, it was integrated rather nicely. The music and lights were synchronized with the fountain, it was a whole show. As you walked past Spaceship Earth, it was really a continuation of the show, all the way to the Christmas tree at World Showcase. Really beautiful.

Tony:

When did Paris stop theirs?

Graham Allan:

2004.

Tony:

Okay, so before EPCOT?

Graham Allan:

Yeah, EPCOT, 2008 was the last season at EPCOT. 2004 was the last season in Paris.

Traditions

Fans of the Disney Parks who’ve been during the holidays all have their own favorite experiences, whether it be an attraction overlay, a show, or even just a piece of decor. Of course, I had to ask what everybody’s favorite was.

Graham Allan:

I'm not big on favorites, just in life, in general, just because there's so much stuff I like. I think there's a couple of things I'll say I really love about-

Tony:

What's the one thing you have to see every year?

Graham Allan:

Well, there's two things; the entertainment, the fireworks shows, I am a sucker for fireworks. You throw up a firework and I will stop and watch. And the holiday shows are just so, so, so well done. But I just love the atmosphere on Main Street. You just put the decorations up, you play the music, and you know what? I can get a cookie and a tea and sit on a bench and just sit there and be surrounded by this just lovely, nostalgic… I don't know, it just transports you magically somewhere else. And you can get that, really in any of the Magic Kingdoms around the world. Shanghai, the music track is different, and so it's not quite… It's a bit different. Their music track, their quality music track is actually the same as DCA. You think 1920s, 1930s swing music. Maybe it's not quite the gentle experience there, but all the other ones, it's a wonderful experience to just sit and be surrounded by this atmosphere.

Charlie Price:

There's two things that really revolve around my family. I have a very young son. One is, like Graham said, the ambiance on Main Street. Just going there, sitting there, having a peppermint ice cream, and then waiting for that snow to drop where the lights change, and then all of a sudden the castle is lit up, that just has a very charming-esque feel to me. And then going on Small World Holiday, it's my son's favorite ride, but to see that version of it, I just love the music and I love how each scene has a little bit of something different, so if you're paying attention, you'll catch a lot of different nuances. And that snowman in that last scene, that really gave them an opportunity to create a weenie for that room, and you just feel it when you go into that room. Those two things, I feel are a must do when I go to the parks at winter.

Rebecca Cline:

I would have to say, I agree with both of you about Main Street, but that ties in, of course, with my favorite, I have to say my very favorite is Candlelight, because it's one of those things that I haven't seen it every year that I've been an employee, but I've either performed or watched it almost every single year of the 33 years I've been with Disney. That means that it's very special to me. I love Candlelight more than anything, and that's kind of… They always do it at the beginning. Here in California, they always do it at the first weekend of the month of December, and so it's my kickoff to the holidays, it's really Christmas when that happens.

Graham Allan:

And if you're singing in the choir, rehearsals start first week of September- You're really into it by the time December rolls around.

Rebecca Cline:

Exactly. I'm really in the spirit by the time it opens. But it's also because it's on Main Street too. It's that same idea, and I think, especially for those of us that have grown up in a place like Florida or California, we haven't experienced that kind of traditional, idealized Christmas. When you're on Main Street, you feel that it's a really traditional Christmas. And from the music to the treats to just the way it's lit to this looking at the shopping in the store windows, and it's just one of those things that is that magical, idealized holiday that most people don't really experience. Maybe our grandparents may have, if they lived in a little town in the Midwest or Northeast or something, but it's not Christmas in Los Angeles. That's not what it looks like here, and although it's different and just as lovely, that, to me, is that moment. And so for me, it's candlelight on Main Street…I've seen it at Walt Disney World several times, and like I said, performed in it twice. It's also very, very special there at EPCOT. Whether I'm in Florida or California, it's something that I always try to see, if I'm there at the holidays.

Tony:

Do you do the dining package, go all out at EPCOT?

Rebecca Cline:

I don't do the dining package, mainly because I work for Disney, so usually when I'm at Walt Disney World, I'm on business, I'm traveling for work. But no, I think it's a wonderful idea for people to do that. I think it's great to have your special meal and a celebration with your family there on property, either at Walt Disney World or at Disneyland Resort, and it makes for a great experience for a family together.

LuminAria and Obscurity

Graham Allan:

Tony, what are your favorites?

Tony:

Every year, and mine's from the past, because I live in the past, tragically; every year I play the soundtrack to LuminAria and that's what starts the holidays for me.

Rebecca Cline: 

Interesting. That's niche.

Graham Allan:

Well, you can-

Rebecca Cline:

It's beautiful music. It's beautiful.

Tony:

The soundtrack is the best part of that show.

Graham Allan:

You can still hear a piece of the soundtrack for LuminAria, which is now used for Disneyland's castle lighting moment.

Tony:

Oh really?

Graham Allan: 

Yes.

Tony:

I did lie a little bit when I said the Headless Horseman swinging was the scariest holiday moment. I forgot the LuminAria spinning fireworks at the end, until just now.

Rebecca Cline:

Scary in a different way.

Tony: 

Yes.

Rebecca Cline:

LuminAria, yeah, wow. That's taking me back quite a few years too.

Tony:

You guys wrote a book and LuminAria is the flashback for you?

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, I remember it very well.

Graham Allan:

It's mentioned in the book. We were actually unable to find a good photograph. There's no photo in the book. It's mentioned, but…

Courtesy ChroniqueDisney

Courtesy ChroniqueDisney

Tony:

What other kind of obscure gems can people who pick up the book look forward to finding in there?

Rebecca Cline:

Oh my goodness, the pink witches at Disneyland Paris in the Halloween section.

Charlie Price:

Gosh, those pink witches-

Rebecca Cline:

And the pumpkin men.

Charlie Price:

Yeah.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, there's a lot in there, especially in the early years. There's some really interesting things that people… The Parade of the Pumpkins, which people don't know about, and some of the real earliest stuff.

Charlie Price:

Pop Warner Football, there was Pop Warner Football.

Rebecca Cline:

Pop Warner Football, yeah, there's a lot of special events in the earlier years that are really kind of funny, because like I said, they didn't have any money to do holiday stuff. They had to put all their money into building the park. In the first few years, up until the 10th anniversary in '65, they would add a little bit every year, except for the circus, which Walt really went in on, they didn't have a lot of money for things, so they were doing things like Piano Teachers' Day and Pop Warner Football and Parade of the Pumpkins and the kennel… They would do dog shows. You'd walk your dog down Main Street and they'd have contests there at the park. Just anything they could do, the Pancake Races, they would do anything they could.

Tony:

I'm glad you mentioned how they'll do anything, Becky, because it makes me think of Disneyland Around the Seasons, that old special, they show the Christmas Fantasy Parade and it's an amalgam of nonsense.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah. There's actually a mouse trap going down Main Street from the Babes in Toyland section of that parade.

Tony:

I specifically remember Goofy fixing a car and then dogs in tutus.

Graham Allan:

Yes, that's right.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, it has definitely evolved from very simple and very homegrown, into the amazing work that our people do at the parks today to celebrate the holidays. It's a very interesting thing to look at, from A to Z.

Graham Allan:

We tend to look at the past through the lens of today, and these things were not viewed as art at the time.

Rebecca Cline:

No, not at all.

Graham Allan:

It's very much of the time, and people maybe may look back 20 years from now, what we do now, and think, my goodness, what were they up to?

Rebecca Cline: 

That's true.

Graham Allan:

I don't know if I would say this is art, but you think… Asking about details, one of the things that we've tried to do with the book is tell the story of detail and quite literally zoom in on things like individual ornaments to show, okay, in this location, in the Hotel Cheyenne in Paris, you look at the tree and there's little lassos and and little cowboy boots and little cowboy hats on the tree. And if you walk past, you're probably going to say, "Oh, the feels like a theme tree," but you might not stop to look at that detail. I think when you see it all put together and you flip the pages and you can really see how different is the theming and the storytelling in each location, that's one of the things we're going for, because maybe as you're walking past this with your family, you're not noticing, you're not zooming in on those details. You're aware of it, but you're not maybe able to zoom in. We hope that we're doing that for the guests.

Photographic Perspective

Charlie Price:

And to have a guest perspective, in terms of how we took the pictures, we hope that the guests will have something, that they're like, "Oh, I have a very similar picture." They're like, "Oh, I've never seen this picture before or this version of it before." Because we try to literally capture everything. We would just scour every single picture. Graham, is the total around 85,000, I believe?

Tony:

A lot of times, especially in the Disney souvenir books, there's photos that aren't from the angle a guest could achieve. Is that true or untrue for this book?

Graham Allan:

We tried really, really, really hard to take all the photographs, during normal operating hours, from guest angles. And there were only a handful of cases we couldn't, so inside attractions, and that's Small World and the mansion, primarily; obviously we can't shut down the attraction to go in during the day, so we did have to go in at night when it was not operating. In both of those cases, we did basically go and do closeups of the sets and the props, because that's really what people want to see. As a guest, you're not going to be able to go down onto the ballroom floor, but I think it's what people want to see, so we're doing the right thing. Then there was, for just a handful of the entertainment photographs, fireworks shows and parades, the entertainment people let us go somewhere, like up onto the roof of Main Street to take fireworks photographs, because it's really hard to shoot those fireworks from ground level. But that's fewer than 20 pictures in the whole book. Everything else is from, absolutely from a guest perspective, during normal operating hours.

Charlie Price:

And that includes proper show lighting as well, which was challenging at times, because going into Haunted Mansion Holiday, we had to take several trips to get particular shots. And as Graham kindly asked, to make sure that all the music was off too, especially going into It's a Small World Holiday, because we were there for a number of hours in the wee hours of that morning, and that would've been rough.

Graham Allan:

Yeah, we were in there for three hours. And what was actually a very specific ask is show lighting on, animation off, music off. It was very, very specific.

Tony:

I didn't think of the animation. That makes sense.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, for still photography, we had to have the animation off.

Graham Allan:

But they said sure, and we just needed to get the request in ahead of time… The grand total of photographs that we took – 80,872.

Tony:

And how many made it into the book?

Graham Allan:

1,875.

Tony:

Okay. Wow.

Rebecca Cline:

For the research, we did the research from the Disneyland and Walt Disney World photo collections, as well as the Walt Disney Archives, for the older ones, which were shot by studio and art photographers.

Graham Allan:

That was another lens that we were looking through as we were selecting photographs, is not just the stuff that's been out in every marketing brochure or every park brochure for years, because there are some that are, because they're just too good. They're too good not to include. But for the most part, going through the Florida collection, I would specifically ask, "Can you show me the ones that have not been used before?" And let's pick something from those, so that we're actually giving life to the work of those photographers. This is 40 years ago, 50 years ago they took these pictures, but also just something new. If you're going to invest the time to go through this book, let's have that payoff with you seeing something new, something new that you haven't had a chance to see before.

Tony:

No, I agree, because a lot of times, especially from the Disney-approved books, you'll see the same

photos again and again.

Graham Allan:

And the Disney publishing people were also an absolute delight, as they gave us total freedom on that. They said, "You go make this what you want it to be." And obviously there's an editing process, there's an approval process, that ended up going really, rather smoothly. They told us, "You go make this the story, the visual story that you want."

Rebecca Cline:

And it was really exciting too, after the book came out, to hear from people who had purchased it and who had seen it. That was a comment that we got a lot, was that, "There's so much in here that I'd never seen before." And that was very satisfying to be able to have imagery and everything that… Even imagery that came from the company, they were shot for PR purposes in the year that they were used and then put away, and going back through some of those older things that people remember, it was really exciting that people were so thrilled to see them again.

Charlie Price:

And we've also heard that people will now take the time to slow down in certain areas, and just go and look in all the windows and go into the stores and just look for all those different details and all the different places that they go. Because it is everywhere, especially at Walt Disney World.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah. We have stuff in the parks as well as the resorts, but also on the cruise lines and the DVC Vacation Clubs and all of that. There's a lot to unpack.

Graham Allan:

Which is something else that we think is probably… Everybody that reads it will find… Almost everybody will find something new. They'll find a place that they haven't visited, where we can show them, "Okay, this is how that part of the Disney World, the Disney Universe, celebrates the holidays.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, and in many cases, like you've said, if you haven't been to all the parks at all of the seasons, even if you've been to Walt Disney World multiple times, you may not have been there at the Halloween holidays or at the winter holidays. It's something too, for people who are familiar with the parks to begin with, because they've visited them, but they may only go in the summer or they may have only been once to one of these parks.

Landscaping and Horticulture

The conversation then switched gears and dove into some of the unsung heroes of the holiday transformation of the parks – The Cast Members. Namely, those who make up the horticulture and landscaping teams that install some of the most overlooked details in the parks.

Rebecca Cline:

The landscaping people, the horticulture and landscaping folks are just uncelebrated heroes. They're amazing to watch. I have to tell you, watching them change out the landscaping is just unbelievable.

Charlie Price:

I worked at the parks for two-and-a-half years and I made the mistake of thinking I understood the parks. After being around all these different teams and part of this book, I got such a different appreciation. I believe we all have, just as Becky said, you would look and turn around, this flowerbed behind us at one time was turned around in 20 minutes. I'm like, "Wait, where… This is new. "

Graham Allan:

Yeah, they invited us in one night to watch them replanting.

Rebecca Cline:

Floral Mickey.

Graham Allan:

And it's just staggering. They were putting in chrysanthemums and they were all in bud, and I asked the lady who was in charge, I said, "When are these going to flower?" This was a Monday evening. She said, "Thursday."

Charlie Price: 

Point blank.

Graham Allan:

And I guess I wasn't there on the Thursday to check, but I have no reason to believe they weren’t there.

Charlie Price:

On Friday afternoon.

Graham Allan:

They gave us a window into even how it's all planned; how far ahead they're thinking about ordering the plants, because they have to have the growers grow the plants to order. They're not just going to the store like we would go and buy a flat of petunias.

Tony:

There's no Lowe's Disney Park garden section.

Graham Allan:

That's right. They're working with the growers and their partners to grow what's needed, and it's delivered… Here in Disneyland, it's delivered on demand. It's delivered the day it's planted. It's delivered during the day and it's planted that night. I had no appreciation, sorry to say, before I met these people, I had no appreciation for the amazing logistics that go into what we end up seeing is just a beautiful flowerbed.

Tony:

And I'm guessing the book calls attention to that?

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah.

Graham Allan:

Yes, we do, but there's a whole chapter. The last chapter is really behind the scenes. Is that how it all comes together and the story of the people behind it all.

“We’re In A Churro Moment”

Charlie Price:

I think Becky talked about it earlier, that was one of the funnest parts is when you would show people part of this book and they would tell you the stories of the people in some of those photos. You had a much deeper connection that was just amazing to hear, because a photo, you have your own vision of what it is, but they're like, "Oh, this person works behind the scenes for 20 years, comes out to play Santa every year. You got to know a little bit about the people, which was really nice, or the location.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, or going into the kitchens and watching them make special treats. Charlie and I got to go to the bakery one day, and oh my gosh, I walked out of there craving Christmas treats so badly. Oh, it's terrible.

Charlie Price:

Smells that come from that room, unbelievable.

Tony:

Aside from the hand-rolled candy canes at Disneyland, has there been any treat that has survived the test of time there, in any of the parks?

Rebecca Cline: Oh, wow. Since the very beginning, I don't know how far back. There are treats that are traditional now that they do. The candy canes, obviously. I'm trying to think, Graham-

Charlie Price:

The peppermint beignets are very popular.

Graham Allan:

The toffee apples. We have a couple of sections of the book on food, but food is… It's a little bit of the moment. It goes through phases and fashions and fads, so if you look at the holiday seasons now at the US parks, it seems to be all sorts of themed churros. Churros in all sorts of colors and flavors, and that's recent, because that's the moment. We're in a churro moment.

Rebecca Cline:

There was a cupcake phase.

Graham Allan:

And I don't know, maybe five years from now, the churro moment will be over.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, and in the earliest days, they had Christmas type treats, things like that. They always had hot chocolate and probably, I think they had cider. Some of those things in the earliest years, they always had things that were Christmassy at that time of year.

Charlie Price:

The Mickey cookie is popular.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, cookies and that sort of thing. But the food, the specialized food for the holidays has been a more recent thing.

Graham Allan:

Yeah, it's certainly fancy. It's become really quite fancy, and that's quite recent.

Charlie Price:

Tony, we were a little disappointed that all the parks didn't send us packages of each of the food items-… for us to try, yeah. We're still waiting on those, and we would eat it. We're fans.

Rebecca Cline:

Exactly. Maybe we should have written more about them.

Tony:

I know firsthand, all Mickey's Christmas party cookies are in a box, ready to be shipped anyway.

Rebecca Cline: Exactly. Exactly.

Graham Allan:

That game was upped last year, so-

Tony:

Okay, actually you're right, it was. Yes.

Charlie Price:

What is your favorite holiday treat or holiday meal at the parks?

Tony:

Holiday treat at the parks?

Charlie Price: 

What's your go to?

Tony:

I remember I did Thanksgiving once [at the park] and I did the turkey leg, but that's not a holiday treat. And I ate so many of those boxed cookies that I don't think I'll ever want one again. I'll go to the… They've been doing flavored hot chocolate in recent years. I'll go with those, at the Very Merry Christmas Party.

Charlie Price:

Okay.

Rebecca Cline: 

Good choice.

Charlie Price: 

Yeah.

More About Holiday Services

Once again, the conversation turned back to the huge warehouse that makes all of this magic happen at the Holiday Services facility backstage.

Rebecca Cline: 

It's amazing.

Graham Allan:

And the holiday warehouse is a pretty magical place.

Rebecca Cline: 

It's pretty special.

Graham Allan:

The icon trees are all stored there, and it's fun to walk up the aisles of where the sections of the big icon trees are, and work out which is which, try and work out from the decorations which section is which tree.

Rebecca Cline:

Yeah, this is probably their busiest time of year, because they're really deep in.

Graham Allan:

They're working all year long, but the production facility doesn't have room for everything. We said they have other warehouses, but what they do is when the material is brought in, once they clean it and refurbish it, they put it on pallets and they put it in the back of semi-trailers and they take those trailers out to as close as they can get to the location where the decorations are going to be installed at any point in the year. The first time I visited them was August, and they were working on the trees for what was, at that time, the Christmas Tree Trail at Disney Springs, now the Christmas Tree Stroll. I spent the day there, I watched them load them up onto pallets and put them in the back of a semi- trailer that drove away, and that trailer was driven to park pretty close to Disney Springs, out of sight, but close to Disney Springs, and then in November, they opened the trailer and there was the decorations ready to go. That's their cycle. When we saw the same at Disneyland, where we were there in March and they were cleaning the Cars Land garlands, and they were rehanging them on a contraption that was just going to be wheeled away, ready to be put on the truck to be taken to the park to be installed.

Tony:

In March?

Graham Allan:

Yeah, because there's no other way to do it. You can't wait until October to say, "I'm going to get stuff ready." It's too late. They're basically getting stuff ready from the moment they've taken it down. And they work on the Halloween stuff while the Christmas stuff is up. Once the Christmas stuff is up in the parks, that's when they're cleaning and prepping Halloween for next year.

Rebecca Cline: Amazing. Just amazing.

It is amazing. For more information about the Holiday Services production facility, be sure to check out our special look inside the backstage building here, and the video above. Our interview with Graham Allan, Rebecca Cline, and Charlie Price only scratches the surface of some of the content that can be found in their book, Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World From Fall to Winter available through our Amazon link below.

Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter (Disney Editions Deluxe): Allan, Graham, Cline, Rebecca, Price, Charlie:

Laughing Place recommends MouseFanTravel.com for all your Disney travel planning