Holidays Around the World: The Storytellers Of Epcot's World Showcase

For all of the deserved hype that the Osborne Lights, Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, and Candlelight Processional get during the holidays, there is one neglected bit of yuletide delight hiding in Walt Disney World. The storytellers at Holidays Around the World in EPCOT are phenomenal! It can be difficult to catch every presentation and it is not possible to see the storytellers sequentially, but making the effort is worth it.

France's Pere NoelFrance's Pere Noel

We'll begin at Canada with The Holiday Voyageurs. Unlike the other countries that have a lovely story to share, the Voyageurs in Canada simply perform traditional Christmas carols. The show is quaint if not a little lackluster when compared to the rest. Nevertheless, if you'll be in EPCOT during Holidays Around the World, you should know that there is a performance in Canada.

The UK pavilion presents the tale of Father Christmas, a story very similar to that of Santa Claus, with an engaging, jolly performer who resembles the Ghost of Christmas Present from "A Christmas Carol". Many of our modern Christmas carols originated in the United Kingdom and several symbols including Holly and Mistletoe earned their relevance to the season from English Christmas traditions.

In the France pavilion, Pere Noel, a very skinny Santa, regales viewers with the tale of Christmas traditions on the French countryside. In France, the idea of a Creche, or manger scene, is very important. Also feasting and the burning of the Yule Log help to round out the French Christmas experience. In the United States, many Catholic families still celebrate St. Nicholas Day on December 6 when St. Nicholas fills shoes left by the children with treats. In France, the children put their shoes by the tree on Christmas Eve and Pere Noel leaves their treats by their shoes.

Father Christmas in the UK PavilionFather Christmas in the UK Pavilion

Morocco, a predominantly Muslim nation, does not celebrate a nationally recognized Christmas holiday, but non-Christian nations all over the world celebrate the bounty of the fall harvest and rejoice in the renewal of life symbolized by the winter solstice. In Morocco, the predominant celebration is Ramadan where for an entire month, faithful Muslims participate in a fasting ritual that culminates in a three-day feast. During the following month, the virtue of Charity is celebrated by helping those in need and engaging in personal sacrifice. The storyteller in Morocco is very engaging and is not to be missed.

In Japan, the legend of Daruma unfolds as the storyteller presents a tale of a Japanese vehicle for wish fulfillment. At the start of the New Year, you make a wish and color in one eye on your Daruma. If the wish comes true before the end of the year, you color in the other eye. If the wish does not come true, you begin the next new year with a new wish and a new Daruma.

Storytellers in the America pavilion shared the stories of Hanukkah and Kwanzaa. While the actual stories are interesting, the viewer must venture into the rotunda to find the real holiday gem (aside from the delicious gingerbread cookies). The Voices of Liberty are appearing as Dickens Carolers for the holiday season and they do a remarkable little show.

La Befana: Italy's Christmas WitchLa Befana: Italy's Christmas Witch

Italy boasts one of my favorite storytellers, La Befana, the Christmas witch! Like Santa, La Befana brings gifts to the children of Italy; but like the three wise men, she is searching for the baby Jesus and she leaves a gift for every child just in case he or she is the child for whom La Befana has been searching for 2000 years. This story is one of the most interesting and the woman who portrays La Befana is magnificent!

Germany and Christmas go together like Chip and Dale. After all, Germany is the only pavilion in EPCOT that runs a year-round Christmas store. Our German storyteller, Helga, regales us with the tale of the fist German Christmas tree and how Martin Luther decorated it with candles attached to its branches. She also tells the audience about how, like Clara from Tchaikovsky's ballet "The Nutcracker", she wishes for the nutcrackers at Christmastime to spring to life. She can make a believer out of the most hardened skeptic with just a bit of Christmas magic!

In China, the storyteller shares the tale of the Monkey King, a story about the Chinese New Year. Unfortunately, we missed this presentation. It is very difficult to see each show without specifically scheduling Holidays Around the World and we were fortunate to catch ten out of eleven.

Helga Tells Traditional German TalesHelga Tells Traditional German Tales

Norway was another favorite, the story of Julenissen, the Christmas gnome. The Norwegian storyteller doesn't believe that Julenissen is real, but with some help from the audience, she begins to believe that the mischievous gnome really does exist! This is one of the most entertaining and engaging!

Mexico entertains us with the story of the Three Kings, or Wise Men, and the feast of the Epiphany. Like in Italy, this feast day is just as important as Christmas, itself, and like in France, the children leave their shoes out in anticipation of receiving a gift. However, like the Hanukah and Kwanzaa presentations, the story of the Three Kings sounds very over-rehearsed and much more like a script being read than a story being told.

Norway's Tale of Julenissen, The Christmas GnomeNorway's Tale of Julenissen, The Christmas Gnome

This idea of setting out shoes for Christmas gifts as is the custom in so many countries around the world is a lovely gesture. Instead of a "here's my list" mentality of gift giving at Christmas, the request for a gift by the placing of shoes sets a much more modest expectation of the type of gifts to be received. It gives us a holiday where we are grateful for the kid gesture of a friend and where we are completely unconcerned with the monetary value of the gifts that we give and receive. This is why the storytellers really hit home for me.

These simple stories and traditions from around the world are more meaningful and more personal than any of the "big ticket" holiday events. If you'll be visiting Walt Disney World this holiday season, be sure to check out these wonderful stories in person. If you can't catch them all, be sure to at least make time for Norway, Germany, Italy, and Morocco!

A big thanks goes out to Guest Author Holly L. for sharing a little bit of her time in Walt Disney World with us. If you'd like to read more about Holly's trip, you can find her sharing her adventures on our member forum.

J wrote on Thu, 12/19/2013 - 19:51:

J's picture

Just to comment a little on the Monkey King, he was a great storyteller and was quite animated when he told his tale. I definitely left feeling [i]enlightened[/i] (which you will understand if you get a chance to see his tale).
Holidays around the world was what I wanted to see the most at Disney this Christmas, and it did not disappoint. Simple, but enjoyable. World Showcase Players do Christmas Carol at the UK pavilion, which is pretty funny as well.

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