The Real Stories Behind The EPCOT Holiday Storytellers

One of the most beloved traditions of the holiday season at Walt Disney World Resort is the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays. Disney describes this EPCOT festival as “a spirited seasonal event inspired by cultures near and far” and “an international yuletide extravaganza” where Guests can celebrate holidays from around the world!

In practice – since most of the pavilions at World Showcase are Western nations – this means showcasing a variety of culturally specific Christmas celebrations, but other seasonal holidays are represented as well (particularly in food form at the many holiday kitchens!). One of the ways that Walt Disney World helps Guests experience these holidays and traditions is through a series of World Showcase Storytellers who present brief shows for Guests of all ages that steep them in the lore of the holiday season.

EPCOT Christmas Tree

Credit: Matt Stroshane

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Before you go to the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, then, read up on the true stories behind the traditions related by the holiday Storytellers, so you can better immerse yourself in the experience of seasonal celebration at your favorite internationally flavored theme park!

Las Posadas Celebration (Mexico Pavilion)

Disney’s description: ¡Feliz Navidad! Join the fun and pageantry of Las Posadas with dancers, piñatas, and the music of Mariachi Cobre.

The real story: Las Posadas is a nine-day holiday celebrated in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, typically from the 16th through the 24th of December, focusing on the nativity story. It typically involves reenactments of Joseph and Mary’s journey, followed by a nightly feast featuring piñatas!


Mexico Pavilion (Credit: Disney Photo Snapper)

A Mischievous Magical Barn Santa (Norway Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Celebrate the season with laughter as a mischievous Barn Santa visits Sigrid, an unsuspecting Christmas storyteller.

The real story: Though a “Barn Santa” isn’t an explicit Norwegian holiday tradition, this story seems to refer to a mythical creature from Scandinavian folklore called the nisse. Associated with the Christmas/solstice season, the nisse looks like what we think of today as a garden gnome – very short with a long white beard and a bright conical cap. They live in the houses and barns of farmsteads, acting as protectors if they are treated well and playing tricks if they are offended.

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La Befana (Italy Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Come hear the tale of La Befana, the kind-hearted witch who visits sleeping young children on the Eve of the Epiphany.

The real story: According to Italian folklore, La Befana is a female Santa-like figure who brings gifts to children throughout Italy on the night of January 5, known as Epiphany Eve. She fills the socks of the good children with candy and presents, but the bad children get a lump of coal, a stick, or dark candy.

Santa Claus (The Odyssey Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Get ready for Christmas with Santa Claus now through December 24. Whether you know him as St. Nick, Père Noël or Father Christmas, a visit with jolly Santa Claus brings good cheer to the season.

The real story: C’mon, you know this one.

Santa Claus Disney's Animal Kingdom

Credit: Disney

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Daruma Storyteller (Japan Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Hear the fascinating story of the Daruma doll and the Japanese customs of the New Year!

The real story: Daruma are hollow, round dolls that vary in design, though typically they are red and depict a bearded man. Regarded more as talismans of good luck than toys, a Japanese New Year’s tradition sees the Daruma returned to the Buddhist temple from which they were purchased for a burning ceremony called the daruma kuyō.

Hanukkah Storyteller (between Morocco and France Pavilions)

Disney’s description: Guests will discover an entertaining celebration of Hanukkah along World Showcase promenade, where a storyteller recounts traveling abroad to explore the diverse music and traditions of Hanukkah around the world.

The real story: The Hanukkah Storyteller is a world traveler who speaks to various ways in which the holiday of Hanukkah is celebrated around the world, but all these traditions relate back to the victory of a group of Jewish warriors (called the Maccabees) over the Greek army when the Greeks attempted to destroy their sacred temple. Once the army was routed, there was only enough oil left behind to keep the lights of the temple lit for one night, but according to a tradition that oil lasted for eight nights, instead, long enough to get a bigger supply. Hence, Hanukkah is the “festival of lights,” celebrating the Jewish victory as well as the long-burning oil.

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Père Noël (France Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Visit with Père Noël and rediscover the magic of Christmas through the letter of a delightful child.

The real story: Père Noël is basically the French version of Santa Claus, but in the French-speaking world, the details are slightly different. Traditionally, children on Christmas Eve will leave their shoes next to the fireplace and fill them with carrots and other treats for Père Noël’s pet donkey, Gui (the French word for mistletoe!). Père Noël and Gui take these gifts and, for good children, leaves presents in the shoes instead, including small toys, candy, and money.

Father Christmas (United Kingdom Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Join Father Christmas as he rings in the season, sharing the traditions of the United Kingdom and good cheer.

The real story: Father Christmas is the English (as in the country of England) version of Santa Claus, though his story actually dates to English folklore traditions that had nothing to do with Christmas! Originally, he was related to adult celebrations of Christmas/solstice-time, but as the Christmas holiday became more child-focused in Victorian times so did the story of Father Christmas. By the late 1800s, he merged with the American characterization of Santa Claus, and today they’re fairly synonymous.


Credit: Disney

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Canadian Holiday Voyageurs (Canada Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Explore holiday customs from the various regions of Canada on a musical tour of the Great White North with the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs.

The real story: Largely, Canadian Christmas celebrations are pretty much the same as the American Christmas holiday, but with an injection of English and French traditions as part of the mix. Plus, y’know, colder and more polite. A cold, polite, merry Christmas, eh?

lunar new year mulan disney

Credit: Disney

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Chinese Lion Dancers (China Pavilion)

Disney’s description: Behold a colorful performance that brings good fortune and happiness in the Lunar New Year.

The real story: You may have heard of the Lunar New Year as “Chinese New Year,” and it’s just what it sounds like – a celebration of the beginning of a new year in the traditional Chinese calendar, featuring families getting together for feasting, lots of red-colored decorations, and dragon/lion dances, where a team of dancers manipulates a giant puppet of a dragon or lion!

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