Celebrating Traditions Around the World at EPCOT

Tyler McNulty

by , Communications Specialist, Walt Disney World Resort

The holiday season has always been my favorite time of year. There’s nothing more magical than decking the halls, singing carols and making memories. And this year, I created a new tradition – taking a stroll around World Showcase during the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays and learning how different cultures and people celebrate and the stories behind their traditions.

Holiday Storytellers at EPCOT bring beloved traditions such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwanzaa, Lunar New Year and more to life with stories told through music, dance and performers in traditional costumes. “The Holiday Storytellers truly capture the spirit of the season,” Dominique Marmolejo, show writer for Disney Live Entertainment said. “It’s a wonderful way to discover new things and find new ways to honor the traditions you already celebrate.”

Hanukkah storyteller

Walt Disney World production teams are very focused on depicting each culture’s traditions in a meaningful and thoughtful way, director of inclusive strategy for Disney Live Entertainment Marsha Jackson-Randolph said. For example, when developing the Hanukkah storyteller experience, Disney Live Entertainment consulted with members of the Jewish faith, including a Rabbi and Cantor, and other organizations who reviewed the script, music and other elements that bring the show to life.

The items our storytellers use in the experiences also carry great meaning. In Japan, guests learn about the Daruma doll and its significance to the country’s New Year’s celebrations. Other props, such as bells in the United Kingdom and Norway and candles for Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, are used to introduce elements that audiences are already familiar with and share how they are used differently to truly bring these traditions to life.

Teams also speak to Disney International Program participants from different countries to help ensure what our storytellers are portraying is what’s being celebrated and passed down from generation to generation.

Japan and US storytellers of the holidays

“We recognize that diverse audiences and people of all ages experience our holiday storytellers and entertainment. In addition to the script, we use other narratives like music, imaginative staging and audience participation to expand the reach. It’s important for us to connect with everyone watching the show,” Marsha shared. “It’s been fun as a creative team to connect these stories through similar elements and symbols but introducing them to audiences in a new way from country to country.” 

For some years now, at each location guests will discover scenic holiday scrolls. Each one offers a unique opportunity to learn about a new tradition. In China, the scroll relates the Chinese tradition of exchanging small gifts in red envelopes or red wrapping paper to extend good fortune to family members and friends.

Danielle in front of Norway and Mexico at EPCOT

In fact, Dominique was part of the team who helped create the holiday scrolls and learned more about her Mexican and Norwegian heritages when she was researching traditions celebrated in those countries that she now incorporates into her own holiday celebrations. “I think that’s what the spirit of EPCOT is all about – learning about new cultures, ideas and traditions,” Dominique said. “After walking around World Showcase during the holidays, I hope guests come out knowing something from a different culture. It’s what connects us and allows us to celebrate the season as a global family.”

So from around the world at EPCOT, Happy Holidays from our family to yours!