Christmas At Disneyland Explained In 15 Photos

A promotional shot of Disneyland at the holidays, featuring Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

Disney knows how to make people feel something. Their SoCal theme parks are no exception, and that's kicked up a notch going into Christmas as holiday nostalgia meets Disney production values. The levels of joyful warmth you'll feel may be terminal.

The celebration kicked off earlier this month and lasts through Jan. 6, so you've still got plenty of chances to get your holiday on — including enjoying some fake snowfalls. Here's what you need to check out at the Merriest Place on Earth:

THE RIDES

In Disneyland:

"it's a small world" Holiday features seasonal lighting all over. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Paul Hiffmeyer)
  • It's A Small World Holiday: One of the park's most spectacular transformations, it's almost a whole new ride, with each of the lands adjusted to celebrate the holidays instead of just one-world togetherness. This is the product of the Disney team spending 35 days to install a holiday facade, along with 18 days turning over the ride's interiors. Pro tips: For those who tire of the "Small World" song (you monsters!), you also get some Christmas music rolled into the experience. There's also something new to look for this year: a gingerbread archway in the European scene, along with a jazzed up finale room.
This year, the gingerbread display features a giant five foot spider with eerie glowing eyes, attempting to pry the edible mansion from its foundation. This year's gingerbread creation is made up of 90 pounds of gingerbread, 30 pounds of confectioner's sugar, 10 pounds of white chocolate and 45 pounds of fondant. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland)
  • Haunted Mansion Holiday: This one's already been switched over since the Halloween season (and a bit before that, honestly), but you haven't missed out on seeing the Nightmare Before Christmas version of this attraction. You can read more about the switch in our article on Halloween Disneyland.

In California Adventure:

  • Mater's Jingle Jamboree: If you haven't ridden the regular version of this ride, it's a car-themed twist on the same style of ride as the Mad Hatter's spinning teacups. Spin around as Mater tows you, set at this time of the year to Mater singing auto-tuned (sorry for that car pun but not that sorry) songs such as "Christmas in Radiator Springs" and "Radiator Rockin' Holidays."
  • Luigi's Joy to the Whirl: At the same time, Luigi's Joy to the Whirl has its own transformation. The rest of the year, the ride's cars dance to Italian music, but now you can enjoy them boogieing to a selection of car-themed Christmas songs like "We Wish You Season's Speedings" and "Carol of the Horns."

THE SPECIAL EVENTS & ENTERTAINMENT

In Disneyland:

Mickey and Minnie make an appearance in Disney's Christmas Fantasy parade. (Matt Petit/Disneyland)
  • A Christmas Fantasy parade: What's Disneyland without one of its ubiquitous parades? You can check out one of several daily chances to see everyone from Frozen's Anna and Elsa to gingerbread men getting you hyped in this holiday joy pep rally. You'll get floats, dancers, and more spectacle than you can handle. And you can see a jolly red-suited man at the end, offering his own countdown to Christmas. Pro tip: Everyone crowds around Main Street to watch the parade, but you may have a little better luck staking out a spot near It's A Small World in Fantasyland, where the parade wraps up. But beware — there can be a bit of a wait for the parade to wind its way from Main Street to you.
  • Believe... In Holiday Magic fireworks show: This nightly Disney fireworks spectacular returns, weaving in Christmas music alongside a Disney original. It includes a broadly appealing original tune designed to make everyone feel welcome and excited about the season. You'll also get a faux snowfall to close it out — but sadly, this isn't the kind you can make into a snowball to throw at your family. Pro tip: You'll want to be either facing the castle or on the right side, as the fireworks are up and to the left behind, making the left side less ideal for viewing. You can also enjoy the magic from Fantasyland and near the Rivers of America.
Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle lit up at Disneyland. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)
  • Lighting up Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle: The castle's already gone through a winter transformation, but you can see lighting ceremonies as night falls, with the castle shining its 126,000 lights over the entire park. They also make use of projection technology to show holiday imagery taking over the castle.
  • Lighting up It's A Small World: Similarly, there's already a holiday version of the ride's facade in place, but you can also see its 400,000 lights come to life every afternoon. It also uses projection technology to make the lighting even more festive, with a world of toys and other moving images projected in an almost-3D effect along the building's exterior.

In California Adventure:

Santa at California Adventure. (Courtesy Disneyland)
  • Visit Santa on the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail: Mickey makes room for Santa to take up residence at California Adventure over the holidays in Santa's Holiday Visit. He'll be in town until he needs to fly out for present drops, until Dec. 24. But no need to fear — Santa Goofy takes his spot afterward until Jan. 8.
The Disney ¡Viva Navidad! street party at California Adventure's Paradise Gardens Park. (Scott Brinegar/Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)
  • Disney ¡Viva Navidad! parade: Hosted by Donald Duck's Three Caballeros, they throw a street party with folklórico and samba dancers, live music, and more of your favorite Disney characters.
  • Princess Elena's Musical Grand Arrival: Another parade, this one targeted at the younger set, featuring the Latina princess star of the Disney Junior show Elena of Avalor. You can enjoy the princess and her royal dancers along the California Adventure streets. Between this and ¡Viva Navidad!, you should be expecting a parade to bust out at any second at all times.

THE DECORATIONS

California Adventure's Christmas tree in the heart of Cathay Circle on Buena Vista Street. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort)

We've mentioned some of the decor above, but there's even more to be found.

  • The Christmas trees: You'll find several spectacular Christmas trees in the parks, including two centrally located ones on Disneyland's Main Street U.S.A. and on California Adventure's Buena Vista Street. Disneyland gets a 60-foot behemoth, while an also massive 50-foot tree is in Buena Vista Street's Cathay Circle.

You can watch them light up in lighting ceremonies every day. Disneyland's tree has new decorations this year, including 3,500 lights, 1,500 Victorian-inspired ornaments, and 100 fake candles.

Disneyland's brand new Christmas tree. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

"You're going to feel like you've stepped into another time and place with the beautiful lights, pine garland, the music and the new tree," Disney Imagineering Art Director Kim Irvine said in a statement. Pro tip: "Be sure to look for the candles on the tree. They look like the real flickering candles you see in movies and pictures of old-time Christmas."

A close-up showing some of the decorations in the new tree at Disneyland. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

The California Adventure tree features vintage ornaments — a throwback to the era when Walt Disney arrived in Los Angeles.

You'll also find toon trees in Mickey's Toontown, with other smaller trees all over the parks. Plus, the Disney hotels traditionally feature their own Christmas decorations and trees as well, so there are more trees out there for all of the Disney arborists.

  • The snowfall: Ready for a little Hollywood magic? Fake snow (shhh, don't tell about the fakeness) shoots out at various park locations. You can find it after the evening fireworks, periodically in California Adventure's Grizzly Peak area, and at other appropriately wintry times and locations.
Some of the holiday decorations in Cars Land. (Paul Hiffmeyer/Paul Hiffmeyer)
  • Cars Land: It's the area perhaps most completely transformed for the holidays, with many of the California Adventure area's locations getting a holiday treatment. Don't miss out on your chance to snag a perfect Christmas card photo in front of the Cars Land sign, decked out in winter snow. You'll even find a car snowman, complete with traffic cone nose.
  • Downtown Disney & the Disneyland hotels: The decorations aren't just limited to the parks — you can venture out into the Downtown Disney shopping district, as well as the nearby Disney hotels, for more of the holiday treatment.

THE FOOD

Holiday Mickey and Minnie cookies can be found at the Holiday Duets marketplace during Disney Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park. (Disneyland Resort)

This year, the Disney parks are bringing back both some of the parks' classic holiday selections, along with updating the menu so there's something new for the regulars.

The highlight is California Adventure's inclusive Festival of Holidays with its trademark Festive Foods Marketplace. It includes both food (so much good food) and music celebrating Christmas, Navidad, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings Day. You also get bonus time to enjoy it — it lasts an extra two days, until Jan. 8.

Pro tips: Here's what Disney's food experts recommend.

When it comes to the Festival of Holidays, chef Jimmy Weita offered this: "Many of our items are classic holiday tastes, with a distinctive Disney twist. We've got lox & everything bagel nachos, 'chicken-less' mole with Spanish rice, and you don't want to miss the turkey and stuffing tamale with cranberry relish, it's the perfect mash-up of holiday favorites," Weita said in a statement.

California Adventure Culinary Director John State offered this advice: "You've got to try the turkey carnitas poutine with malted french fries, slow-cooked turkey carnitas at Lamplight Lounge, the plant-etarium street tacos from the Studio Catering Truck and the turkey pot pie soup served in a sourdough bread bowl at Pacific Wharf Café."

Disneyland's culinary director has his own recommendations: "You won't want to miss our holiday treats like the Santa Hat Macaron with creamy vanilla-mint filling at Jolly Holiday Bakery Café or the peppermint holiday sundae at Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor," Disneyland Culinary Director Johnny Hall said.

The Festival of Holidays food is centered in the Festive Foods Marketplace, a path surrounded by booths ready to assault your taste buds with holiday flavor. You can try some world flavor right next to the area where one of Disney's future treats is being cooked up — the new Marvel land. It's marked by fencing from Iron Man's Stark Industries, and you'll be able to visit starting in 2020.

WHAT'S NEXT

Disneyland guests and Cast Members celebrate Mickey Mouse's 90th birthday, Nov. 18, 2018, during a cavalcade down Main Street U.S.A at Disneyland. (Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort)

There's always something new around the corner at the Disney parks, and this is no exception. They just celebrated Mickey's 90th birthday on Nov. 18, and that celebration continues into the new year with more special entertainment. They've also got the new Star Wars land, new Pixar-themed rides, and much more on the way — so here's to 90 more. Cheers!


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