The Holiday Season is one of the most popular times to visit Walt Disney World, and it is easy to see why: with amazing light displays, moving and inspirational music, entertaining shows, festive decorations, and of course delicious treats, this is a season that is a true feast for the senses. And of course, no one prepares that kind of feast better than Disney! So clearly, for anyone who loves the Christmas Season and loves Disney, there is no better place to celebrate the Most Wonderful Time of the Year!
With all of the festivities though, it is easy to overlook one of the most interesting Holiday events at Disney World: Epcot’s Holidays Around the World Storytellers. But you really shouldn’t! The Holiday Storytellers are a fascinating glimpse into how other cultures celebrate their special holidays…..and if you take the time to visit with them, you will be in for quite a treat! Entertaining and fun, learning about how others celebrate Christmas and other winter holidays is a wonderful way to add to your “Christmas Spirit”.
So let me briefly introduce you to the Storytellers that you will meet on your Holiday stroll around the World…..
Mexico: The Three Kings
Dressed in magnificent robes, The Three Kings tell their tale: In Mexico families celebrate Christmas through January 6 when the Three Kings arrived in Bethlehem, bringing gifts to baby Jesus. On Three Kings Day, children leave their shoes out, hoping that the Kings will leave special treats in them on their way to Bethlehem.
Julenissen is funny kind of elf who shares his story. In Norway, he lives in the woods, guarding each family. During the Christmas season, children leave bowls of porridge out to thank Julenissen for watching over them all year long.
China: The Monkey King
The Monkey King tells a very interesting legend about how he, Sun hou-kong, a monkey raised by humans, became the Monkey King after defeating a monster. But after he began to then cause mischief and mayhem, Buddha punished the Monkey King by imprisoning him in a mountain. Needless to say, he was soon very sorry for his ways, and after promising to mend his ways, was set free again. The Monkey King of course, points out the moral to his story, in hopes of sparing others his fate.
Many of Germany’s customs and traditions of the season are familiar, because they become an important part of celebrations all around the world. Here Helga shares the story of the first tannenbaum or Christmas tree, and how it came to be decorated with lights (candles), decorations and special treats.
Italy: La Befana
I love the story of La Befana, who legend has it, was a poor, old woman who lived at the time of the birth of Jesus. After refusing to help the Shepherds and the Three Kings look for the newborn Baby, she eventually decided to look for him on her own. Sadly though, she became lost and never found him. She still looks for him to this day, visiting children’s homes in hopes of finding him, and leaving gifts for the children when she stops by.
American Adventure: Story of Hanukkah, Santa Claus, Story of Kwanzaa
When you stop by America, you will have the chance to hear two Storytellers. One explains about the seven principles of Kwanzaa, and how this special holiday celebrates each of those principles. The second Storyteller recounts the tale of the eight days of Chanukah, and explains how a candle is lit each night on the menorah to commemorate the special miracle of the flame burning in the Temple for eight days. And here you will also have the opportunity to meet that special American elf, Santa and Mrs. Claus too!
Japan: Daruma Vendor
In Japan, a Daruma doll street vendor, shares the Japanese New Years tradition of the Daruma doll. During the New Year’s celebration, Daruma dolls are given as special gifts of encouragement in setting and achieving goals.
Taarji explains how, in Morocco, families celebrate Ashura, a special holiday in the first month of the Islamic year. Right after sunset on this holiday, families gather for a meal and sweet treats, and children receive gifts, treats, and a drum called a taarija. After this, the children sing and dance around bonfires for the rest of the night!
France: Pere Noel
Pere Noel is one of my favorite storytellers. He tells how he arrives to visit French children on Christmas Eve, of course, bringing gifts with him when he comes. Pere Noel also shares some of the letters that he receives from French children, and discusses some French Christmas customs that are familiar to many of us, including the crèche or nativity scene.
United Kingdom: Father Christmas
You will find that Father Christmas, in the United Kingdom, is a jolly man in a white beard and green robe, and he too shares some Holiday customs that are familiar to us, including the origins of mistletoe…and how kissing came to be associated with it.
Canada: Papa Noel
While Papa Noel talks about customs that are shared by those in the United States and elsewhere, he also explains about uniquely Canadian traditions too, such as the celebration of Boxing Day on December 26. No, this does not honor the sport of boxing, but rather commemorates an old English custom of thanking tradesmen for their help all year, by giving them gifts of Christmas boxes filled with treats.
So there you have a brief overview of the Storytellers and their stories. Now for a few things to keep in mind as you plan your visit around the World. Each of the Storytellers is scheduled at several times each afternoon/early evening near their respective countries around World Showcase. The schedule you receive as you enter Epcot will note the times that each will be presenting. Each story lasts for about 15 minutes, and if you want to visit all of them, expect to spend 3-4 hours in order to make it all the way around the World. You will find that most Storyteller presentations are not especially crowded, so it is easy for children especially to be right up front to see…and hear…the entire story up close and personal, which you should encourage! And each Storyteller is always happy to stay afterwards for some pictures, so be sure to have your camera ready.
One of the reasons I have always loved World Showcase is the chance to travel “around the World” in a few hours, sampling the various countries’ food, folklore, customs, and culture. It’s fascinating and fun, and a great way for everyone….children especially….to learn a little about this great big world of ours. Visiting the Storytellers during the Holiday Season provides the perfect chance for the entire family to do this, learning to appreciate how we are different and yet in a special way….the same.