Welcome to Extinct Attractions and happy holidays! We are in the full Christmas season now, so I thought there would be no better time to take a look back at Christmas parades from Disneyland’s past.
Disneyland goes all out for the Christmas season, and this year they jumped right back into the flow of things with a multitude of Christmas parties and everything being all decked out for the holidays. It’s as if the pandemic never happened because Christmas at the resort basically felt the same as it has for years now.
One of my favorite elements of Disney at Christmas is the Christmas Fantasy Parade. Every year, my family and I gather to watch it together, keeping memories alive while making many more. As I was thinking about it this year, I realized that that was the only Disneyland Christmas parade that I had ever known because its predecessor ended before I was born, so today we’ll be jumping back in time to take a look at all of the extinct Disney Christmas parades that I missed out on.
Disney saw its first parade at the parks in 1955 with the Christmas Show Parade that only lasted a couple years. From what I understand, the parade was a full extravaganza in itself, reportedly lasting nearly 75 minutes long. The parade didn’t look much like parades today, with the experience really consisting of animals and Mouseketeers from the Mickey Mouse Club Circus making their way through the park. Needless to say, guests were not thrilled with this approach, so in 1957, the decision was made to become more holiday-centric and the Christmas in Many Lands Parade debuted on November 22, 1957.
The new parade served as an early precursor to the proposed World Holiday Land and World Showcase at the holidays in that the parade was internationally-themed and paid homage to nearly 30 different countries. I love that the park was so intent on making inclusion a point from the early days (though to really finesse it, it should have been the Holidays in Many Lands Parade).
The parade remained untouched until 1960, when it got a slight rebranding to become Parade of Toys, adding in the toy soldiers that we see in parade today and that were inspired by Babes in Toyland. Outside of that, not too much changed in the parade, which still retained its international elements and eventually transitioned to become the Parade of All Nations from 1962 until 1964.
After all those years of internationalism, Disney decided to switch back to what it does best and start showcasing their films in the parade, albeit with a bit more of a Christmas flair, especially at the beginning and end of the experience. With that, Fantasy on Parade was born in 1965 and served as the park’s Christmas parade until 1976, remaining basically unchanged until going through a name change (in what was becoming a frequent occurrence) to The Very Merry Christmas Parade in 1977.
Well, that name change stuck around for three years until the parade transitioned back to being called Fantasy on Parade from 1980 until 1986. Then, wait for it, the parade changed its name again in 1987, back to Very Merry Christmas Parade for the rest of its run. Now it seems like there must have been a ton of changes to the parade over the years, but really it stayed relatively static albeit with a few additions of newer films. With that in mind, I decided to dive deeper into the 1992 version of the parade to give you a bit of a taste of what guests experienced at the time.
Aurora’s float itself was elegant, but the real highlight was that Maleficent herself was on it. She’s my favorite Disney villain (and also my Disney+ icon since Day 1), so getting to see her appear in a parade was pretty thrilling. On the other hand, the Snow White float went for a more rustic feel with the dwarfs’ cottage serving as the float, but I loved that idea as well.
Following the princesses, we got into some animal content with Jungle Book characters appearing next including, what will become a recurring theme, an actual kid playing Mowgli. To pair with the characters, there was a trombone posse following them which added a lot of liveliness and led nicely into the next group of animals from Fantasia. Characters from that film really don’t get a lot of parks attention (outside of Sorcerer Mickey and some Yensid and Chernabog), so it was pretty cool to see some of the less-heralded characters come to life.
Via @DisneylandDrive on Twitter
The show’s director kept the theme of IP from the Walt days by moving onto Mary Poppins next. We are used to having Mary around in Mickey's Soundsational Parade, but outside of that she doesn’t get to feature in parks’ attractions very often, so it was nice seeing her, too. Of course, she had Jane and Michael with her, both of whom were also played by kids, as were all the Lost Boys in the next group to roll through from Peter Pan.
As a whole, I counted at least 10 children in this show, which was pretty crazy to see through today’s lens. Disney hasn’t hired children to play any roles in their attractions in nearly twenty years, with Steps in Time being the last example I can think of. Steps in Time, I understood, because it was a full stage show, but getting kids for a parade is crazy to me, though this performance was at night, as it performed in day and night, so at least they could go to school.
As a whole, the Peter Pan floats were my favorites of the attraction with Captain Hook making a rare face character appearance as he and Smee tried to escape the croc. We also got to see Skull Rock and Peter Pan fighting some pirates atop the Jolly Roger, so overall it was just a really fun sequence that felt reminiscent of both Fantasmic and Main Street Electrical Parade.
Next up in the parade were Alice and her chums, with the best part being the insanely long Caterpillar float out of which butterflies would emerge. If you know me, you know my favorite Disney character is the Caterpillar, so I may have audibly gasped as I saw him in all of his splendor. What also stuck out during the Alice portion were how many performers were in this parade. It had to have been over one hundred in total, especially with so many floats involved.
After Alice was done, it was time for the Beauty and the Beast float. At this point I was pretty much floating on air because my two favorite Disney Animation films had appeared back to back, and the splendid nature of both of the floats made it even more exciting. On the Beauty float, they had an animatronic Lumiere that reminded me a lot of the one in Enchanted Tales with Belle in Magic Kingdom, and I was impressed with how much money they were willing to put into a seasonal parade. Plus, the fact that they were adding in new floats when new films came out shows that they were committed to making it as successful as possible.
With most of the specifically IP-driven floats out of the way, much of the Christmas material that we know and love started to make their appearances. We started off with the toy soldiers from Babes in Toyland. The musically-inclined troops are one of the most iconic parts of the show, and honestly, they just make me happy every time that they show up.
After that, we got to see Geppetto’s toy shop with a myriad of characters like Roger Rabbit and Pooh & Friends hanging out there. These floats looked a bit different than they do in Christmas Fantasy, but they still evoked that same feeling of happiness and giving that makes it special.
Following up the toy group, pretty much the rest of the parade was used in Christmas Fantasy, albeit with some slight changes. To start, Goofy is still building a gigantic gingerbread house, but instead of being assisted by Max, Donald was his helper, which makes a lot of sense since A Goofy Movie hadn’t even come out when this parade ended.
After Goof, we got the snowmen and ice skating Mickey and Minnie, both of which continued their fun in the next version as did the closer of the show (who else?) Santa!
All in all, I really loved that so much of this parade has managed to stand the test of time and can still be seen today. Sure, it can run a little long, but I think it’s definitely worth it because few things put me in the Christmas mood more than a Disney Christmas parade. In 1994, The Very Merry Christmas Parade ended, becoming the Christmas Fantasy Parade the next year, and while I wish I could have seen it in person, so much of it stuck around that I can’t really complain.
Well, that’s all for today, but hopefully this article could help you get in the holiday spirit as we celebrate in the safest ways that we can.
Via Christmas Memes
As always, don’t forget to check out my interactive maps of the Disney Parks throughout the years where you can watch or learn more about all the attractions from every Disney park around the world.
Thanks for reading and have a magical day!
Cole Geryak is a childless millennial making his way through the world. He has ridden every single ride in Disneyland in one day, all while wearing a shirt and tie. Imagination is his middle name, and his heart truly lies in the parks.