Happy Holidays! With Thanksgiving and Hanukkah getting underway this week (not to mention Black Friday, which is a high holy day unto itself for many), I thought it only fitting to begin my holiday 2013 series!
This year, I’ve teamed up with some of my very favorite bloggers (and friends!) to share stories of our favorite Disney-related holidays. Some of them are heartwarming, some of them are hilarious. All of them will put you in the spirit of the season.
We’re kicking off today with Katherine from Food Fitness Fantasy. I love this girl—she’s so quirky and wonderfully childlike … but with this amazing streak of deadly (and brilliant) seriousness that makes it kind of a joy to spend time with her. You’ll definitely feel that spirit come out in this story about her first Christmas at Walt Disney World.
I always wanted to wake up on Christmas Day at Walt Disney World. In my wildest dreams, I’d be at the Polynesian, the tropical touches providing a stark contrast to the blustery Midwestern Christmases I’d grown up with. There would be some small exchange of token gifts — nothing major, of course, because I was already at Walt Disney World with my favorite people, the gift to end all gifts. Kona coffee and hot chocolate would be consumed, and we would all take the monorail to the Magic Kingdom gates for what would surely be a spectacular holiday-themed rope drop.
This scenario has yet to happen. It has been fueled in part since being told around eight or nine years of age that my parents wanted to take my sister and me to Disney World for Christmas, but hotel availability and costs and their work schedules didn’t line up. Although I got a ton of cool stuff on that particular Christmas, I COULD’VE BEEN AT WALT DISNEY WORLD. That kind of disappointment really sticks with a kid.
Two years ago, I realized that the office at my job in Brooklyn would be closed between Christmas and New Year’s Day. I’d wanted to go back to WDW in early January between New Year’s and Marathon Weekend, when the prices were dirt cheap, but it looked between Christmas and New Year’s would be the only time I’d be able to go. Prices were more exorbitant during that holiday week, but surely my parents would want to partially cover this as a Christmas gift for their two girls and one of their girls’ long-term boyfriend? To make up for that Christmas that we never got to spend there? To sate the desires of their 20-something, Christmas-obsessed daughter who had only a year ago rediscovered the childlike magic of the parks and was dying to go back?
I spent a few days on the phone convincing my Wisconsin-based parents and sister to move their work schedules to accommodate a late December to early January trip. I also had to do some in-person convincing of my boyfriend to join us. Finally, all the arrangements were made. We’d stay at Pop Century, with my parents and sister in one room and my boyfriend and me in another. Of course, I was more excited than anyone, so the trip-planning duties were delegated to me.
There are few things in this world I’d rather be doing than planning every minute of a trip to WDW, so I got all meticulous about it. I tried to calculate how much time it would take to get on all our favorite attractions at each park. I booked ADRs for every meal. The first full day of our trip, despite being after Christmas, was the last opportunity to see the Candlelight Processional at EPCOT. Excited for the option to partake in a seasonal Disney event, I booked a Candlelight Processional package with a group lunch at Teppan Edo in the Japan Pavilion. I accounted for everything — or so I thought — and then just counted down the days to the trip. When Christmas came and went, I for once didn’t feel that sad burn of the holiday ending, because it just meant I was that much closer to Walt Disney World.
I knew by the time we were in line for the Magical Express at MCO that I had failed to take some major factors into account for this family trip. Already worn out from several days with our extended family, my parents and sister were tired and cranky and complaining about our packed schedules. I wanted so desperately to spread my rediscovered love of the parks to them, but all they were seeing was too much walking, too little sleep and too many things that I wanted to do that they had no interest in.
Things were touchy that night and for the first morning in EPCOT. I got yelled at for being “too knowledgeable” about Disney World — haha, as if that’s a thing — and by the time lunch at Teppan Edo rolled around, I was nervous that the food would be too exotic, my family being less adventurous eaters than my boyfriend and me.
Lunch, however, went surprisingly well. The hibachi show was a hit, and the onion volcano received applause. Fortified by grilled meats, my family began to warm up to World Showcase, taking pictures of the still-hanging Christmas decorations, loading up on U.K. candy and grabbing beers from the Rose & Crown’s most entertaining bartender, Carl. Everyone was still in a good mood by the time we were ushered to our special seating at the America Gardens Theatre at the American Adventure Pavilion for the Candlelight Processional.
I didn’t know much about the Candlelight Processional other than “Christmas songs” and “celebrity narrator.” Our celebrity narrator was Marlee Matlin, along with her sign language interpreter, Jack Jason. As Marlee and Jack conveyed the biblical story of the birth of Jesus, a huge choir and a 50-piece orchestra accompanied them with rousing renditions of religious holiday songs.
I was raised Catholic and attended a Catholic school for nine years, but religion no longer has any active part in my life. My decision to lead a secular life is something that has put me at odds with my parents and sister, who are all still practicing Catholics. As we sat through the Candlelight Processional, I began to worry that they would somehow use this religious event to attack me somehow — that they would think I was making fun of them, or patronizing them, or that they’d try to have a long chat about “converting” me after the event concluded.
But as I glanced over at them, it looked like they weren’t ready to attack me at all. And I’m always going to have a good time when people are singing Christmas carols, whether the subject of the songs is Jesus or Santa Claus. I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to be upset during “Joy to the World.”
I reflected on whether the rest of the trip with my family was going to pan out as I had planned it. Most likely not. I was disappointed that I had spent so much time crafting a plan, only to have a lot of it get rejected or abandoned. But isn’t that often how things work out — not just with trips, but with life itself? You give things a go with your best intentions and hope they don’t get derailed. And hopefully you learn a thing or two from the things that don’t go as planned.
I was trying to make up for lost time and force my interests onto my loved ones, which are two ways not to go about being at WDW with others. But amidst the myriad emotions everyone was experiencing, it was nice to have that moment during the Candlelight Processional, where everyone around me was completely absorbed in the poignant holiday moment and I realized that, for the time being, I could let go of my worries too. After the show was over, my mom squeezed my arm and said, “I really, really enjoyed that. That was great. Thanks for setting this all up.” And I could feel that warm spirit-of-Christmas feeling that is so unique to the holiday bubbling up inside me.
I never did get that WDW Christmas trip as a child, and I’m not sure that dream scenario at the Polynesian will ever pan out. I’m also not sure if I ever want to be responsible for planning a Disney vacation for five adults again, but if I do, I know I’ll try to keep things relaxed and open. I also won’t hesitate to consider going at Christmas.
Have you ever taken a family vacation to Disney during the holidays? Tell us all about it in the comments!!
Extra special thanks, as always, to At Disney Again, who took the photo in the series graphic and helped me edit it until it was juuuuuuust the way I wanted it. You’re tops!