“Holiday Magic at the Disney Parks: Celebrations Around the World from Fall to Winter” by Graham Allan, Rebecca Cline and Charlie Prince (Disney Editions) is a big, lavishly illustrated, 384-page photo book perhaps best enjoyed as a sourcebook of ways to decorate for Christmas and Halloween the Disney way. Here are lots of contemporary photos plus intriguing vintage images of the Disney resorts and cruise ships asplendor with artificial Halloween jack-o’-lanterns and towering Christmas trees, with plantings, shop window displays, bunting, projections, fireworks, parades, dancing, singing, meals and deserts.
The very notion of “holiday” as an escape from normal time or a synonym for going on vacation matches the mission of the Disney resorts—and their deeper cultural significance as places of pilgrimage and ritual, places we go to be part of, to reenact our treasured American tales and traditions.
So it feels right that for months at a time, every day at Disney is Halloween or Christmas. Because visiting the parks is a holiday from ordinary time to step into fairy tale moments.
Christmas has been celebrated at Disney parks since Disneyland opened in California in 1955, and it tends to fit perfectly into Disney reports—matching our notions of the coziness of Disney’s idyllic reimagining of European folk tales and white, small town Victoriana. Disney’s iconic castles dazzle when draped in thousands of icicle lights. Christmas also offers the Hollywood ingenuity of a 17-foot-tall actual gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian Resort in Florida that serves as a candy shop that you can walk into.
Halloween only arrived at the Anaheim park with a 1959 “Parade of Pumpkins,” then not again until a Disneyland parade in 1968 and at Florida’s Magic Kingdom in the 1970s. The haunted holiday seems to sometimes confound the resorts. Perhaps because they still wrestle with (1) a general feeling that Disney experiences must never be too scary and (2) Walt’s edict that everything in his parks had to be relentlessly neat and clean including the exterior his “Haunted Mansion.” The book’s photos suggest Disney’s Halloween seems to work best as a warm autumn harvest palette and lots of artificial jack-o’-lanterns “carved” with Disney characters and brands.
In addition to Christmas and Halloween, the authors tally jazz nights (with Louis Armstrong among others), Zorro days (inspired by Disney’s TV series), Thanksgiving date nights, and various other parades and parties.
Beginning in the 1984 with a Christmas version of the “Country Bear Jamboree,” Disney “Imagineer” park designers began experimenting with adding holiday “overlays” to rides. This led to a “Ghost Galaxy” version of “Space Mountain” roller coaster and “Nightmare Before Christmas” version of “The Haunted Mansion.” Sometimes the results can feel, well, weird—like the Christmas packages bobbing in the “Jungle Cruise” river or putting a Santa hat on the dog who holds the key the pirates need to escape a burning jail in “Pirates of the Caribbean.” But “It’s a Small World” redecorated as Christmas celebrations around the globe feels elegantly in tune with the ride’s original wish for peace on earth.
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