Santa Claus is comin' to town ... whether that town is in Mexico, Japan, France or anywhere else around World Showcase at Walt Disney World's Epcot. The holidays bring out what we think is best about Epcot — the celebration of different cultural traditions from around the globe. The Epcot International Festival of the Holidays gives you a taste (literally!) of different holiday customs from every corner of the world, from delish dishes to unique festivities.
Formerly Holidays Around the World, the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays immerses you with sights, sounds, flavors and stories of celebration to remind you of the reason for the season ... no matter what your traditions are! The Epcot festival is expected to return for 2019, although dates have not yet been announced. This festival that includes Holiday Storytellers, Candlelight Processional and the fabulous Holiday Kitchens usually runs from mid-November until the end of December. Best of all, it's included with regular park admission!
Here's what to expect for this year's festival based on past years, although 2019 details are not yet confirmed!
Entertainment at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
Holiday Storytellers & World Holiday Traditions
Performers bring local holiday traditions to life in their respective countries around World Showcase during Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. These storytellers share the history of their unique, time-honored celebrations from various countries through fun performances. Leap and I jump on any chance to educate our tadpoles while at Walt Disney World, and these performances are an enjoyable way to teach them about other cultures. A few of our highlights include Norway's sassy holiday gnome Julenissen, and France's kind-hearted Pere Noel.
The Storytellers are usually something we enjoy in passing, rather than planning specific times since they take place intermittently throughout the day during the festival. It is nearly impossible to see them all in one day without hopping all over the place! However, it can be fun to seek out a certain country from your heritage to learn more about its traditions. Be sure to stop by America to hear the stories of Kwanzaa and Hannukah. (Stroll past the pavilion or pick up a park guide for the times.)
Mexico: Las Posadas presents dancers, piñatas, music and more.
Norway: Sigrid the Storyteller encounters mischievous holiday gnome, Julenissen, as laughter ensues.
China: A colorful performance captures the happiness of celebrating the Lunar New Year.
Germany: A live band fills the holiday marketplace with merriment.
Italy: La Befana, the kind-hearted witch who visits children on the Eve of the Epiphany, shares tales.
America: Santa and Mrs. Claus meet all the good boys and girls. And check out the Voices of Liberty as Dickens Characters.
Japan: You can ring in the Japanese New Year with the story behind its good luck charm, the Daruma doll.
Morocco: A live band brings the fun of Moroccan holidays to life.
Hanukkah: Storyteller Zachary shares the legends and songs of Hanukkah celebrations worldwide.
France: Pere Noel shares the letter of an adorable child as he explains his own Christmas tradition.
United Kingdom: Father Christmas shares the traditions of the United Kingdom in his lush holiday garb.
Canada: The Canadian Holiday Voyageurs will have you rockin' around the Christmas tree.
The most popular, special entertainment at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is the Candlelight Processional. Last year, performances were held each night from Nov. 22 to Dec. 30 at 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. at American Gardens Theater, with a celebrity narrator telling the biblical tale of Christmas. This is the perfect way to remind your tadpoles the reason for the season as you enjoy gorgeous choral pieces from an orchestra and choir performing inspirational songs of hope and joy. Last year’s narrators were as follows:
- Chita Rivera, Nov. 22 – 23
- Helen Hunt, Nov. 24-25 – NEW
- Alfonso Ribeiro, Nov. 26-27 – NEW
- Robby Benson, Nov. 28-Dec. 2
- Neil Patrick Harris, Dec. 3 – 6
- Whoopi Goldberg, Dec. 7 – 9
- Bart Millard, Dec. 10-12 – NEW
- Blair Underwood, Dec. 13 – 14
- Gary Sinise, Dec. 15 – 17
- Pat Sajak, Dec. 18 – 20
- Auli’I Cravalho, Dec. 21-23 – NEW
- Edward James Olmos, Dec. 24 – 25
- Jodi Benson, Dec. 26 – 27
- Cal Ripken Jr., Dec. 28-30
Seating is first come, first served and can fill up fast. To secure a spot at the Candlelight Processional of your choice, try booking a dining package in advance. When you reserve a Candlelight Dining Package, you can enjoy a full meal with your Frog Squad at almost any table service restaurant in Epcot and guaranteed priority seating at one of the evening Processional showings. Note that most discounts, including Annual Passholder and Tables in Wonderland, do not apply to these packages.
JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season
JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season takes place daily at the Future World Fountain Stage. Check the daily park guide for times, and stop by to enjoy a seasonal blend of inspiring gospel, jazz, R&B and more. This wonderful performance is sure to get your family in the holiday spirit in no time! There is plenty of room around the stage and the music can be heard all around the fountains, so don’t worry about posting up early for a spot. This is the perfect entertainment to enjoy with your family.
Illuminations: Reflections of Earth
This beautiful, inspirational fireworks display will not be returning in 2019, but we do expect something else to take its place. There’s not a bad seat in the house around World Showcase to view this show, but our personal favorite area is in front of the Italy pavilion.
Holiday Cookie Stroll
Last year, Epcot International Festival of the Holidays had an assortment of different cookies at various locations around the park.
To make the event sweeter, you could purchase any five cookies from the Holiday Cookie Stroll locations, collect your stamp and bring the completed Festival Passport to Holidays Sweets and Treats for a complimentary "Completer" cookie and glass of milk. With stops located across World Showcase and cookies at about $2 a pop, it was a pretty sweet deal and fun for the tadpoles.
Chip & Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree
If your tadpoles are a fan of Ratatouille’s Hide and Squeak at Epcot’s Food and Wine Festival, be sure to check out this scavenger hunt. This activity is a great way to keep little ones entertained while you sip and savor around World Showcase. Simply purchase a map and sticker set for $6.99 from Pin Central, Disney Traders or World Traveler on International Gateway. (You can also find them around World Showcase, but these stops are on your way in so you won’t miss anything!)
Your tadpoles can help Chip and Dale collect ornaments for their Christmas tree throughout each World Showcase pavilion. When they spot each, they can add the corresponding ornament sticker to their maps. Once completed, return the map to Disney Traders in exchange for a festive surprise!
Leap and I can’t be the only frogs whose favorite part of Epcot festivals is the food, right? Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is loaded with tasty treats sure to delight your taste buds. The wide selection of Holiday Kitchens is our favorite addition to the past Holidays Around the World.
There’s something for everyone among the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays menus. We were so excited to check out last year's L'Chaim holiday kitchen ... the Potato Knish and Herb Sour Cream was absolutely DELICIOUS, and vegetarian AND kid-friendly! Could it get any better than that?
Have no fear — there are tamer global eats around the world as well if you or your tadpoles aren’t feeling quite so daring. American Holiday Table offers some classic Turkey Day faves, or how about Cheese Fondue in a Bread Bowl with Fresh Steamed Baby Vegetables from the Bavaria Holiday Kitchen? Tadpoles don't notice veggies when they're paired with melted cheese, right? ;)
My favorite conquest of any Epcot festival is finding more adventurous fare that I can talk Tad and Lily into trying. Last year, my highlights were found in Italy with the Cavatappi ai Quattro Formaggi and Mozzarella in Carozza — aka fancy mac 'n' cheese and a mozzarella stick-like sandwich. These helped introduce them to bolder flavors (and bigger words!) than they usually experience, so they're not afraid to try new food elsewhere.
Another on-theme "challenge" is finding unique takes on holiday favorites. Last year, I couldn't wait to try Japan's take on the Yule Log made with green tea spongecake and Ichigo Milk Boba ... both were a hit with the whole Frog Fam!
While there’s already so much to feast on at the Holiday Kitchens, don’t miss out on special seasonal grub at standard food and beverage locations. Each Joffrey’s kiosk had unique holiday beverages. Select locations throughout the park had Christmas-y delights complete with gingerbread, chocolate, egg nog and peppermint flavors.
Oh one last thing ... Leap and I highly suggest you 21+ froggies indulge yourselves at Prost! in Germany. The Candy Cane Coffee Porter tastes like a peppermint mocha ... fa la la la la!
Tips for the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
- Use the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays Passport to keep track of your adventures! This small booklet lets you know what's hoppening around every corner, from entertainment times to menu items and every fun activity in between. This is critical to make sure you don't miss anything during your World Showcase stroll and made our lives so much easier.
- Stop by the right side of the America pavilion for a photo with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus. This is an exciting pit stop for tadpoles to tell Santa what’s on their list this year, and a great photo opportunity as well. The line is typically much shorter here than at Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, and you get to meet Mrs. Claus too!
- Note who's narrating Candlelight Processional. Crowds for the Candlelight Processional at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays 2018 varied greatly by narrator. Historically, Neil Patrick Harris has been a fan favorite and draws in tons of guests. Auli'i Cravalho, aka Moana, was a big hit as well. If you’re not a huge fan of the more “popular” narrators, try attending another night to avoid crowds. If you are diving in on those potentially chaotic nights, be sure to either land a package dining reservation or get in position at least an hour and a half early.
- Try to knock out attractions (Soarin’, Test Track, etc.) early in the day, and hit World Showcase in the afternoon. It will typically be less crowded around this time, so there will be shorter lines at food kiosks and you’ll only have to arrive about five minutes ahead of time to get good spots for the Holiday Storytellers.
- Keep in mind that Thanksgiving week and the last two weeks of December are the busiest times of the year at Walt Disney World, so crowds will be inevitable then. Continue to follow the above tip, but arrive about 15 minutes early if you’re leapin’ to see a certain storyteller.
We hope you've found this guide to Epcot International Festival of the Holidays hopful as you plan your trip. Drop us a line and share a tip for the festival — or your favorite parts of this annual event!