The holidays bring out what we think is best about Epcot — the celebration of different cultural traditions from around the globe. 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, Epcot International Festival of the Holidays toadally immerses you in the sights, sounds, flavors and stories of celebration to remind you of the reason for the season ... no matter what your frog fam's traditions are! The Epcot festival typically starts at the end of November and runs through December, providing plenty of time to spread Christmas cheer. This festival includes the entertaining (and educational) Holiday Storytellers, star-studded Candlelight Processional and delectable Holiday Kitchens. Best of all, Epcot Festival of the Holidays is included with regular park admission!
We know, we know. The holidays have just recently passed, and we've leapt into a new year ... and a new decade! But the holiday season is a hoppin' vacation time, so we always say it's never too early to plan ahead. We've left in details from the 2019 event so that you can get an idea of what to expect if you're planning ahead for 2020 or beyond. (The core structure of the festival is very similar year after year.) We won't judge if you're playing Christmas music as you read this guide. Petition to play "All I Want for Christmas is You" year round, anyone?
Entertainment at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
Holiday Storytellers and 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 at any chance to educate our tadpoles while at Walt Disney World, and these performances are an enjoyable way to teach them about other cultures.
The Storytellers are usually something we enjoy in passing, rather than planning specific times to visit them 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. You can find showtimes in the Festival Passport for those that you just can't miss! We find that most of the Storytellers have at least one performance every hour or so.
- Mexico: Las Posadas presents dancers, piñatas and Mariachi music.
- Norway: A hilarious-yet-mischievous Barn Santa visits Sigrid, an unsuspecting Christmas storyteller.
- China: A colorful performance from Chinese lion dancers captures the happiness of celebrating the Lunar New Year.
- Germany: Chilli da Mur, a vocal group who was new to Epcot at last year's event, fills the holiday marketplace with merriment.
- Italy: La Befana, the kind-hearted witch who visits children on the Eve of the Epiphany, shares her story.
- America: Santa and Mrs. Claus travel from the North Pole to meet all the good boys and girls. Be sure to check out the Voices of Liberty as Dickens Carolers!
- Japan: You can ring in the Japanese New Year with the story behind its good luck charm, the Daruma doll.
- Morocco: A lively band brings the fun of street festivals and Moroccan holidays to life.
- Hanukkah: Storyteller Zachary shares the legends and songs of Hanukkah celebrations worldwide.
- France: Père Noël 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 entertainment at the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays is the Candlelight Processional. In 2019, performances were held each night at 5 p.m., 6:45 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. at America Gardens Theatre, with a celebrity narrator retelling 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 a 50-piece orchestra, the Voices of Liberty and the Walt Disney Cast Choir, performing inspirational songs of hope and joy.
The 2019 narrators were:
- November 29 to December 1: Ming-Na Wen
- December 2 to 5: Neil Patrick Harris
- December 6 to 7: Whoopi Goldberg
- December 8 to 10: Isabella Rossellini
- December 11 to 12: Alton Fitzgerald White
- December 13 to 15: Gary Sinise
- December 16 to 18: Pat Sajak
- December 19 to 21: Geena Davis
- December 22 to 24: Steven Curtis Chapman
- December 25 to 26: Edward James Olmos
- December 27 to 28: Marlee Matlin
- December 29 to 30: Lisa Ling
The musical pieces are beautifully woven between the narration. You'll recognize some tunes, such as "Silent Night," during which the conductor encourages the crowd to join in singing. We won't spoil the specifics, but we love the beginning and how it starts off with the orchestra, then introduces the Voices of Liberty, followed by the grand entrance of the choir and finally, the narrator.
Seating is first come, first served and can fill up fast. To secure a spot at the Candlelight Processional event 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, as well as 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 concerts celebrate the joy of Christmas and Kwanzaa. The concerts usually take place daily at the World Showcase Plaza Stage with the lagoon as a beautiful backdrop. Check the daily park guide or Festival Passport 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 from all around, so don’t worry about posting up early for a spot. This is the perfect entertainment to enjoy with your family (and a perfect place for the tadpoles to get those winter wiggles out!).
Living with the Land Holiday Overlay
Last year, the ride received a new holiday transformation with sparkling Christmas lights and decor. As we cruised through the Epcot greenhouses, we spotted a family of snowmen, colorful wreaths and twinkling lights, including a Mickey reindeer head. Our favorite part was traveling through the final tunnel with all of the festive lights on the side! While the decorations were up during the day, we thought it was better to ride at night for the full effect.
While IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth bid adieu Sept. 30, 2019, we toadally loved Epcot Forever, which is currently the temporary replacement. It has laser effects, LED kites and awesome fireworks. So far, we've watched it from Canada and the World Showcase Plaza, which both had great views! However, we're expecting "Harmonious" to take over as the permanent nighttime spectacular sometime in 2020, so watch this space to see if it'll debut at Epcot by the time the festival rolls around!
Holiday Cookie Stroll
Epcot International Festival of the Holidays has an assortment of different cookies at various locations around the park. If you purchase any five cookies from the Holiday Cookie Stroll locations, collect a stamp for each one in your Festival Passport. Once you have all five, bring the stamped passport to Holidays Sweets and Treats for a complimentary Santa Mickey sugar cookie! With stops located across World Showcase and cookies at about $2.50 a pop, it was a pretty sweet deal, and sweet fun for the tadpoles. Plus, you don't have to get all five in one visit — you can always come back at a later date to complete the stroll if you're able to.
In 2019, the Holiday Cookie Stroll locations were:
- Bavaria Holiday Kitchen: Linzer Cookie
- American Holiday Table: Gingerbread Cookie
- Yukon Holiday Kitchen: Peppermint Pinwheel Cookie
- Feast of the Three Kings: Chocolate Crinkle Cookie
- L'Chaim! Holiday Kitchen: Black and White Cookie
Chip 'n' Dale’s Christmas Tree Spree
If your tadpoles are fans 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 your way around World Showcase. Simply purchase a map and sticker set for $6.99 from Disney Traders or World Traveler on International Gateway. (You can also find them at select Holiday Markets around World Showcase, but these stops are on your way in so you won’t miss a moment of the magic!)
Your tadpoles can help Chip 'n' Dale collect ornaments for their Christmas tree throughout each World Showcase pavilion. When they spot each one, they can add the corresponding ornament sticker to their maps. Once completed, return the map to Disney Traders or World Traveler 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 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.
With 13 Holiday Kitchens to choose from in 2019, there was something for everyone among the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays menus!
Holiday Kitchens in 2019 included:
- Bavaria Holiday Kitchen (Germany)
- Prost! (Germany)
- American Holiday Table (The American Adventure)
- Yukon Holiday Kitchen (Canada)
- Feast of the Three Kings (Showcase Plaza)
- Holiday Sweets and Treats (Showcase Plaza)
- L'Chaim! Holiday Kitchen (between Morocco and France)
- Le Marché de Noël Holiday Kitchen (France)
- Sapphire Holiday Kitchen (Morocco)
- Tuscany Holiday Kitchen (Italy)
- Shanghai Holiday Kitchen (China)
- Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen (Japan)
- Las Posadas Holiday Kitchen (Mexico)
We tried some of the 2019 offerings, including the Smoked Salmon Potato Latkes at the L'Chaim! Holiday Kitchen (which is where the popular Pastrami on Rye with house-made pickles and deli mustard also returned!). The Yukon Holiday Kitchen also featured a new dish — Canadian Wild Rice and Ham Soup with a Pretzel Roll.
Have no fear — there are tamer global eats around the world, as well, if you or your tadpoles aren’t 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? ;) Menus can be found in the Festival Passport, and a kid-approved icon can be found next to tadpole-friendly items.
My favorite conquest of any Epcot festival is finding a bit more adventurous fare that I can talk Tad and Lily into trying. Last year, the La Genovese flatbread with Vidalia onions, white wine braised beef tenderloin tips and mozzarella won my heart (and stomach). The tadpoles deemed it as "fancy pizza."
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 has unique holiday beverages. Select locations throughout the park have Christmas-y delights complete with gingerbread, chocolate, eggnog and peppermint flavors.
Oh, and one last thing ... Leap and I highly suggest you 21+ froggies indulge yourselves at Prost! in Germany. Leap really liked the Anchor Brewing Christmas Ale — it had hints of Christmas spices, as well as toasted caramel and Mexican chocolate.
Tips for 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 Disney's Hollywood Studios, and you get to meet Mrs. Claus too!
- Note who's narrating Candlelight Processional. Crowds for the Candlelight Processional at Epcot Festival of the Holidays can vary by narrator. Historically, Neil Patrick Harris has been a fan favorite, and as expected, he once again drew in tons of guests in 2019. 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. (Yes, people were indeed lining up in the standby area by 3:30 p.m. for the 5 p.m. showing!)
- Speaking of waiting in line for the Candlelight Processional, stop to get food or snacks beforehand! These showtimes are right around dinnertime, so you or the tadpoles are bound to get hungry at some point. Also, keep in mind that the performance is about 45-minutes long, so it could be a while before you're able to grab grub.
- 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.
- For Christmas gift inspiration, check out the Holiday Markets throughout World Showcase. Last year, one particular Holiday Market hosted master glassblower, Reinhard Herzog. We watched him create unique, mouth-blown glass ornaments on the spot! Lily and Tad were practically glued to the glass display window as they watched him personalize several pieces.
- 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.
- There are many photo opportunities throughout the festival. However, you can't miss the iconic tree in the middle of World Showcase Plaza!
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!