Welcome to those of you joining me from Capturing Magical Memories and those of you just hopping aboard.
I am the 3rd stop on our Magical Blogorail.
Christmas in Florida is weird. Central Florida has more than its share of chilly nights and frost, but quite often the bite of winter doesn’t truly arrive until January or February. Christmas is a sunny brown and green affair, punctuated by Santas next to flowering Azaleas, lawn reindeer munching on green grass, and pre-lit snowmen braving 75 degree warmth.
I didn’t grow up here. Where I came from in the mountains of Central Pennsylvania, winters were blanketed in power-line-breaking snow, and ice storms turned curvy hillside highways into luge tracks for cars. My childhood was steeped in songs of white Christmases and sleighbells in the snow – and all I had to do was bundle up in 5 layers of snow clothing and go outside (no, I couldn’t put my arms down) to see the truth of those tunes. I can remember being furious when a rain storm melted the snow a few days before Christmas, leaving mud and ice in its wake. It just didn’t “feel like Christmas” without the sparkling white blanket of frost and ice on the ground.
I don’t think I’ll ever get used to seeing Christmas lights wrapped around a palm tree.
Some days, no matter how loud I blast the Christmas music or how bright my Christmas tree twinkles, it’s just hard to find the Christmas spirit in the tropical sun.
And that’s why I go to Disney.
Walt Disney World owns Christmas in the Orlando area. No other theme park or attraction is so perfectly suited to tap into all of the things that make Christmas, well, Christmas. The sense of care for our fellow man, the hope for a brighter tomorrow, a sense of kindness and good will – those things are what Disney brings its guests every day. Christmas is, in the end, a natural fit for the Disney parks, and they celebrate with vivacious enthusiasm.
From the Gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, Disney offers a Christmas treat for everyone. And, as a lover of the holiday, I’ve sampled most of the park offerings. I’ve squealed over the Osborne lights; I’ve wept as Cinderella castle shimmered into beauty with its Christmas lights; I’ve munched on cookies as Santa arrived at the Christmas party; I’ve listened to the story of every country’s holiday ambassador at Epcot; I’ve watched Santa bring joy to old and young alike at Downtown Disney’s Festival of the Seasons. Disney makes Christmas real with thousands of wreaths, millions of lights, and a joy that is utterly infectious.
But in all the wonder and magic of the Disney Parks at Christmas, only one thing definitively makes it Christmas. Only one thing is a “tradition” without which the season is incomplete – the Epcot Candlelight processional.
The candlelight processional stems from a long Disney tradition. From the opening of Disneyland in 1955, carolers were a part of the Christmas tradition in the parks, and on the first day of the holiday festivities in the park, 12 “’Dickens Carolers’ and a 300-member massed chorus made up of visiting choirs stood together on the Main Street Train Station steps and sang Christmas carols accompanied by visiting school bands.” A full Christmas show rose out of the carolers’ popularity in 1958, and by 1961 celebrity narrators had been added to the mix, with familiar names like Dick Van Dyke, Cary Grant, John Wayne, and James Earl Jones among their number. In 1993, because of popular demand, the musical celebration came to Epcot in Florida. (If you want to know more of the processional’s history, read this wonderful article by Disney historian Jim Korkis)
Today, the Florida show is housed in the America Gardens theater, right in the heart of World Showcase. It runs for over 30 nights, featuring a massed choir of up to 500 singers from high schools across Florida (and sometimes elsewhere in the country) led by the Voices of Liberty vocalists from the American pavilion, a full orchestra, and a celebrity narrator. The show features over half an hour of beautifully arranged Christmas carols that seem to sparkle in the air as the live orchestra and singers fill the theater with their sound. Between the carols, the narrator reads the traditional Christmas story from the Bible along with poetry and words of inspiration.
In a world where live performance is a rarity, there is something beyond breathtaking about hearing the gestalt of a live orchestra guided by a conductor supporting hundreds of young voices. Familiar carols take on new life, ringing across the World Showcase with confidence and beauty. The performance draws people from across the park – people who might have been unaware of the show – with the power and beauty of its performance. There is a power in the energy and passion behind the beautiful music, a sense of beauty and transience that no recording or reproduction can quite capture. It is its own form of magic, a spell of music and message that weaves its way out from the stage to touch all within earshot.
I don’t always purchase one of the Candlelight Processional packages that guarantee me a seat, but I don’t need to. I know the show by heart; I own it on CD. All I need is to stand at the back of the theater outside the fence and let the music wash over me…and I know it’s Christmas.
For me, the Candlelight Processional is my holiday tradition. It reminds me that, no matter what the holiday songs tell me, the Christmas spirit is not about snow or sleighs. Christmas is a holiday set in the darkest part of the year because it is a celebration of hope, of the promise of light in a dark time. It is a time to celebrate beauty, to invest in hope, and to renew faith that there will be light ahead. For me, nothing affirms that so deeply as the glory of those voices raised in song, celebrating the wonder of Christmas and the words of the Christmas story, reminding me of the Greatest Hope.
I love everything about the Disney Parks at Christmas, but only the Candlelight Processional kindles a Christmas joy that stays with me beyond the purple gates at the edge of property. It is my holiday tradition, not only making me smile, but bringing the greatest gift of all – a joy and beauty that nurtures my spirit and reminds me that Christmas is an attitude of heart and of mind. It brings tears to my eyes and comfort to my soul…and it even makes the Christmas lights on the palm trees kinda…Christmasy.
Thank you for joining me today. Your next stop on the Magical Blogorail Loop is Focused on the Magic.
1st Stop ~ Disney on Wheels
2nd Stop ~ Capturing Magical Memories
3rd Stop ~ Your Highway in the Sky
4th Stop ~ Focused on the Magic
Final Stop ~ Disney Donna Kay