A note from Mommy Frog: Of course, 2020 is no ordinary year due to COVID-19. Disneyland theme parks have remained closed since March, but we can at least spread a little holiday cheer with some frogciting news. This season, you can step into the closed Disney California Adventure Park as of Nov. 19, 2020, to do some holiday shopping and dining. However, due to a regional stay-at-home order for Southern California, all restaurants in Downtown Disney are open for take-out only as of Dec. 7, 2020. Food and beverages are not allowed to be consumed on property. Select shops and retail locations remain open.Hop over to our full post on Buena Vista shopping and dining for more information. Disneyland will not fully reopen for the holidays this year, and the Candlelight Processional is officially canceled. For Disneyland reopening dates and details, hop over to our Disneyland reopening post. Read on to get a look at a typical Disneyland Christmas and the Festival of Holidays at Disney's California Adventure (in case you are planning next year's holiday getaway to Disneyland).
Our tadpoles' wish lists for Santa always start with "VACATION TO DISNEYLAND!" We can't blame them, and we certainly won't complain. It's a gift that the whole family can enjoy. Falling right on the heels of Halloween Time, Disneyland Resort transforms from a fall festival to a winter wonderland for the holiday festivities. After reading this guide to the hoppiest Christmas at Disneyland, you'll want to add Disneyland tickets to your holiday wish list too!
Obviously, Christmas at Disneyland is a little different this year, with the theme parks and hotels currently closed. Downtown Disney is open for shopping and dining, and as we mentioned above, the Downtown Disney District expanded into Disney California Adventure Park's Buena Vista Street as of Nov. 19! Both Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street are decorated for the holidays, and you can purchase holiday merchandise and Disneyland holiday treats.
Read on below to get a sense of our guide to holidays at Disneyland for a typical year. Since we know that Disneyland cannot fully reopen for the holidays in 2020, we have our sights set on vacation planning for 2021.
Guide to the Hoppiest Christmas at Disneyland (When the Parks are Open)
The Frog Family loves hoppin’ around the many Christmas trees at the Merriest Place on Earth. We know the best times to visit Disneyland and beat the crowds without missing any of the fun. We do not yet have any reoepning dates (or entertainment) for 2020; however, holidays at Disneyland 2019 began Nov. 8, 2019, and lasted until Jan. 6, 2020! In 2019, we enjoyed the all-new Mickey's Happy Holidays character cavalcade in Disney California Adventure. We hope it returns!
Crowds During Disneyland Christmas
Most of November and the beginning of December are incredibly quiet in the parks. However, higher crowds are expected during Thanksgiving week and on Veterans Day. Don your holiday spirit early with visits before Thanksgiving week or during the first two weeks of December for lowest anticipated crowds. Expect Fridays and weekends to be busier than Tuesday through Thursday.
The weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year are very busy. New Year's Eve is one of the busiest days of the entire year! Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't experience the holidays at Disneyland. Just make sure to adjust expectations for your time in the parks and expect longer delays in parking, security and lines. Even if you need to visit during more crowded weeks, you are in for a merry good time. The great news is that during busy times, the parks are open for longer hours and offer more entertainment. You can see Disneyland Park hours and showtimes on our crowd calendar.
In 2019, the holiday filming of "A Christmas Fantasy" parade took place Nov. 13 and 14 at 11:00 a.m. There was filming throughout the day and evening those days for a special. We saw filming at the base of the Christmas Tree on Main Street, U.S.A., in front of the Millennium Falcon and by "it's a small world." If you are looking for filming dates, you can usually find them in the paper Entertainment Schedule in the parks about a week before filming starts. We usually update this post as soon as we find out, so keep hopping back!
Keep in mind that if you choose to wait for a performance, you may be waiting for a while and may not get to find out who the performers are for musical acts until the last minute. All that waiting may keep you from enjoying other aspects of the park. Also, you may not get your iconic castle view that day due to filming (although in 2019, the castle was not affected the day we visited. Instead, the Millennium Falcon photo area was blocked off with a stage). Be sure to dress festively if you wish to participate in future years! You might even get some props if you are in the right place at the right time.
When Does Disneyland Decorate for Christmas?
The holiday decorations start going up in October, even before Halloween. The snow on Sleeping Beauty Castle is the first thing to arrive in mid-October. The fringes of the park get decorated before Halloween, so we see decorations going up in Critter Country, New Orleans Square and Toontown in October. As soon as Halloween ends, the Halloween decorations begin to come down and a flurry of Christmas decorations begin to appear, day by day. In 2019, we saw the Disneyland Christmas tree was installed Nov. 4 (four days before holiday time officially began) and Christmas carols filled the air.
I'll let you in on a Frog Family secret: The period between Halloween Time and Disneyland Christmas is one of the best times to visit the Disneyland Resort. The crowds are low, and the weather is usually mild. It's exciting to to see the transition between Halloween Time and Disneyland Christmas time!
The start of the holiday season at Disneyland is usually about the second or third weekend in November, but it can vary slightly. The first day of Disneyland Christmas in 2019 began on Friday, Nov. 8. The festive foods and ride overlays will not be available until the official first day of the season, though, except for Haunted Mansion Holiday, which runs through both Halloween Time and the Christmas season.
So how and when does Disneyland decorate for Christmas with park guests about? Much of the decorating appears overnight when the park is closed. Each morning leading up to holiday time is like Santa has magically visited overnight to leave new decorations while taking away bits of Halloween. A few decorations go up a bit later once the holiday season is underway. We usually do not see the Mickey garland across Main Street, U.S.A. until later in November.
Disneyland has been decorating for Christmas since the very first Christmas the park was open in 1955. The parks have sure come a long way since the first few wreaths were hung and the sparse stands of garland dressed the castle! The first Christmas tree was placed in the hub (instead of Town Square). Today, the Christmas season is breathtakingly beautiful at Disneyland with the twinkling lights, snowfall, a sprinkling of magic and décor that all guests can enjoy.
Disney California Adventure Park opens up the holiday celebrations with a cultural nod to various ways to celebrate Christmas, as well as many other winter holidays beyond Christmas, at Disney's Festival of Holidays. More holidays to share and new foods to try — hooray! The festivities tend to be more seasonal than religious, with the exception being the Candlelight Ceremony. The Disneyland Christmas decorations bring festive fun and excitement into a time of year when the days are shorter and colder. All of the lights warm and brighten the otherwise dark evening hours and spread holiday cheer. Plus, we think it’s a great excuse to try all the festive foods!
What Can You Expect During the Disneyland Christmas Festivities?
You’ll find holiday decorations all around the Disneyland Resort. The Main Street, U.S.A. and Toontown characters are all dressed up in their holiday attire for special seasonal photo opportunities. Holiday music will entertain you, and certain attractions will be especially festive or even covered in snow! Foodie froggies will love that there are so many yummy holiday treats and foods at Disneyland during the holidays — we certainly can’t resist! There's a nightly Christmas tree lighting about 5:00 p.m. Holiday time also brings seasonally-themed items into the stores (merchandise is usually available late October), making shopping merrier. Perhaps ‘tis the season to get some holiday shopping done!
Special Ride Overlays During Holidays at Disneyland
Some of our favorite parts of Disneyland at Christmas time are the special holiday attraction experiences. Certain rides receive a festive makeover to really get your frog family into the spirit of the season!
Be sure to take a trip on "it’s a small world" Holiday. The seasonal overlay of this Disneyland classic features special decorations and music to get everyone in the spirit. The dolls add “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” to their traditional song list. The ride was closed Monday Oct. 21, 2019, through Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019, to decorate.
You'll definitely want to take time to bask in the glow of the festively lit exterior at night and catch one of the projection shows. Be in front of "it's a small world" for the awe-inspiring nightly lighting of the exterior lights with a projection show and music — check the entertainment calendar or ask a cast member for the time, but expect the lighting of the facade at about 5:15 p.m. (but sometimes at 5:00 p.m.), and then projection about every 30 minutes throughout the evening starting about 5:30 p.m. While viewing the magical exterior requires special timing, you can ride anytime — don’t worry, the inside is the same, day or night.
Jack Skellington and his crew take over the Haunted Mansion throughout the holiday season. The Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay takes about a week and a half to deck the spooky halls of the Haunted Mansion. The Haunted Mansion was closed Aug. 26 to Sept. 5, 2019, to make this transition. By holiday time, Haunted Mansion Holiday is already in full swing, as it runs from Halloween Time straight into Christmas. For the 2019-2020 season, Haunted Mansion Holiday ran through Jan. 20, 2020, and then the ride closed for a few months to undergo refurbishment. The holiday overlay is brimming with scary Tim Burton-esque Christmas spirit. Be sure to check out the gingerbread house featured in the ride; it’s different each year!
Haunted Mansion Holiday attracts much scarier wait times than the classic Haunted Mansion attraction, so we recommend that you visit this ride in the first hour of park opening or use FASTPASS to reduce the wait. Another fun tip: Jack and Sally greet guests in New Orleans Square all through the holiday season. Last year, Jack donned his Sandy Claws attire for certain days. It’s a joy meeting these unique characters! Jack is delightfully “horrible.”
Meeting Santa During the Disneyland Christmas Celebration
You can find the big man himself at two locations. Santa Claus typically greets guests at Critter Country in Disneyland Park and at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area, along with his mischievous elves, at Disney California Adventure Park. After Christmas Eve, Santa must hop on his sleigh, so Santa Goofy takes over at Disney California Adventure for the rest of the season. Santa also greets guests at Disneyland Resort hotels closer to Christmas. You might also get a chance to meet Mrs. Claus. She is so sweet! She roams around Critter Country and hands out recipes for her special cookies. And we all know how much her hubby loves cookies!
Entertainment During Disneyland Christmas
Holidays at Disneyland Park
A Christmas Fantasy Parade with Mickey, Minnie and a variety of Disney characters celebrates the holidays alongside Santa Claus. Showtimes are typically 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., but can vary the week of Christmas and during the Candlelight Ceremony days (which took place Dec. 7 and 8 in 2019), so be sure to the check the Entertainment Guide. If you do not want to spend time camping out for the parade, Plaza Inn may offer a dining package that has a voucher for a reserved viewing area. The dining package is not offered on holidays (such as Thanksgiving day, Christmas Eve and Christmas day).
Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle is the perfect backdrop for your annual holiday card — be sure to ask a PhotoPass photographer to add a little magic to some of your photos. In 2018, they put us in a snow globe!
Be sure to catch snowfall during the Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle, usually at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each day. Snow will also fall immediately following the "Believe … in Holiday Magic" fireworks show.
Fireworks are usually at 9:30 p.m. Pro tip: Snow does not fall right in front of the castle, but it does fall to the sides. We recommend hanging back near the Jolly Holiday Bakery and Plaza Inn or in the middle of Main Street, U.S.A., which offers projection on the buildings during snowfall and the fireworks, as well as a view of the castle. Pick a spot with a nice castle view. You can view the fireworks and enjoy the snowfall that follows at four locations: the castle (snowfall is a bit farther back), Main Street, U.S.A., “it’s a small world” and Rivers of America. If you need help finding the correct viewing area, just follow the snowflakes on the park map.
There will be special fireworks on New Year's Eve. In 2019, there was a dining package through Plaza Inn, with reserved fireworks viewing from Plaza Inn and a special menu.
You can encounter snowfall along Rivers of America closer to New Orleans Square after fireworks. During the week when there is no Fantasmic! showing, you can also catch snowfall several times a night. Be sure to check the calendar for times. We recommend Main Street, U.S.A. (for extra projection) or the hub to view the dramatic castle lighting, as well as the snowfall.
You can expect other musical entertainment around Disneyland. The Dickens Yuletide Band performs throughout the day along Main Street, U.S.A. The Dapper Dans are likely to include holiday songs in their barbershop quartet selections.
Put on your dancing shoes and join your Disney pals in Tomorrowland at the Disney Holiday Dance Party from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m on select nights. In past years, it has taken place on weekends and holidays in the beginning, but often picks up more nights as the season gets underway, so check the calendar if you want to get your boogie on. The dance party takes a break during fireworks.
The Candlelight Ceremony, a musical retelling of the story of Christmas, is likely to be held twice nightly on a weekend in early December. This can put parades and other events on a special schedule, so plan accordingly! The parade may run early at 12:45 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. those days. In 2018, Candlelight Ceremony was held Dec. 1 and 2 and featured narrator Chris Pratt! In 2019, the dates were Dec. 7 and 8, and the narrator was Lin-Manuel Miranda! The narrator is a surprise until the first show each year. The Candlelight Ceremony began in 1958 as a way for Walt Disney to thank the Orange County community. The event is canceled for 2020 due to the pandemic. Walt Disney World also canceled the much larger Candlelight Processional in EPCOT for 2020.
Disneyland keeps quiet about the details (unlike its EPCOT counterpart) because the event is more intimate at Disneyland. The seats are for invited guests, such as Club 33 members, VIPs and some high-profile guests. You can usually see the setup for the event in Town Square during the day. You might be able to find some standing room on the fringes or catch sight of the ceremony as you walk by. Some park guests camp out early in the day for standby viewing. Sometimes they let people queue for it and fill in empty seats. The process may vary each year, so be sure to ask a cast member about it that day if you are interested in catching it. The later ceremony may be easier to see.
Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park
Disney California Adventure Park is the place to be during the holiday season. There are decorations throughout the park, including Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. Every address along Route 66, including Flo's V8 Cafe, Fillmore's Taste-In, Cozy Cone Motel and Luigi's Casa della Tires, gets a holiday makeover. Two Cars Land rides get seasonal overlays — Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree! At dusk, check out the Cars Land lighting. There is a nightly Christmas tree lighting on Buena Vista Street at 4:55 p.m.
There are also frogtastic food offerings at Disney's Festival of Holidays. The festival marketplaces offer delish dishes and delectable desserts from around the world. The Paradise Garden Grill gets a whole new menu, as well, during the Festival of Holidays, and restaurants throughout the parks sell special holiday treats and seasonal delights.
This can't-miss celebration will delight you with diverse cultural celebrations, including the popular ¡Viva Navidad! holiday street fiesta. Enjoy lively Mexican music, face painting (for a fee), crafts, festive foods, photo-ops with favorite characters and tasty Mexican specialties. Three Kings' Day, a traditional festival celebrated in Mexico, Central and South America, ran Jan. 3 to Jan. 6, 2020.
Our holiday tip for this park is to know where to stand to watch the ¡Viva Navidad! dancers, along with the Three Caballeros, Mickey and Minnie. For a front row, straight-on view of the float, you'll want to stand near the Paradise Gardens area, halfway between the Jumping Jellyfish ride and the Silly Symphony swings on the water side of the street (across from the middle entrance to Paradise Gardens). Consult the Entertainment Guide for showtimes and get in place about 15 minutes early.
During the Festival of Holidays, you can typically decorate cookies at Treats for Santa (for a fee). Your tadpoles can also do free crafts related to many holidays, including Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Navidad. Your little princesses can also design a tiara from Elena of Avalor. There are some interesting meet and greets to find throughout the parks, as well. Chip 'n' Dale are in Redwood Creek awaiting acorn gifts. In the Paradise Gardens festival, you can meet Goofy, Mickey, Minnie and the Three Caballeros. Elena also greets her guests in that area.
Along the Festival corridor and near the entrance to Paradise Pier, keep a lookout for one of our favorite acts, the highly entertaining Toy Drummers. Their show is short, sweet and definitely worth catching.
In addition to their regular performances, the Toy Drummers joined up with Disney and Pixar characters for an all-new show in 2019. You can usually catch Mickey's Happy Holidays at 12:30 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. daily. The cavalcade makes stops at two locations twice a day — at the Obelisk and Carthay Circle. Many characters are dressed to impress in their holiday best, and they are dancing in the streets.
Also new for the 2019 season was the Holiday Sunset Concert series in the area in front of the water where you would find World of Color viewing. The rock cover band, the Suffragettes, played Monday and Tuesday, and Phat Cat Swinger took the stage Wednesday through Saturday evenings. You'll also find favorite returning acts at various stages. Listen for live entertainment from such acts as Mostly Kosher, Blue13 Dance Company, The Sound and Mariachi Divas.
We are sad to say that there no longer is snowfall in the Redwood Creek area. We are thrilled, however, that World of Color — Season of Light returned for Disneyland Christmas and the Festival of Holidays 2019! The holiday show is electrifyingly magical. Showtimes vary per night, so be sure to check the calendar. On weekends and holidays, there may be two shows. Weeknights that are not at peak times may have one show, depending on park hours. There is usually a special World of Color New Year’s Eve countdown with fireworks Dec. 31. You can usually find a New Year's Eve countdown in Hollywood Land.
Dining During the Holidays at Disneyland
If you are planning to visit Disneyland around Thanksgiving or the school winter break, expect heavier crowds. If you plan to eat at any table-service restaurants in the parks, Downtown Disney or the Disneyland Resort hotels, we recommend making reservations up to 60 days in advance through the Disney Dining Reservations System. There are dining plans that offer preferred viewing for Fantasmic! and World of Color.
Reservations open about 60 days before Thanksgiving Day (in fall 2019, reservations opened a few days after the 60-day window started) and fill up quickly for Thanksgiving dinner. Practically every restaurant is offering a special seasonal dish, and some present a full spread. The Disneyland Hotel offered its fall harvest buffet in the ballroom in 2019. This included carved roasted turkey breast, prime rib, homemade stuffing, sweet potato soufflé and so much more in years past. Yum!
There are Christmas Day dinners available at the Disneyland Resort hotels at Storytellers Café, Disney's PCH Grill, Goofy's Kitchen and Napa Rose. The special New Year's Eve celebrations fill up quickly, so set your calendar to make reservations about 60 days in advance. Be sure to check out the New Year's Eve Fireworks Spectacular dining package at Plaza Inn. There's also a New Year's Eve dinner buffet with characters at Disney's PCH Grill.
Special Reserved Experiences
Another toadally cool holiday experience at the hotels and open to all guests is the Grand Gingerbread House Experience. Meet the pastry chefs who made the giant gingerbread house in the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and build one of your own! It's recommended to have a minimum of two guests to complete a house. Guests can enjoy tasty treats and will receive a holiday-themed apron amenity. The event is from 3 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. on select dates.
Reservations in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
While having a drink at Oga's Cantina in Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge does not fall under traditional Christmas activities, you can certainly raise a glass in good holiday cheer ... if you get a reservation. Reservations are available to 60 days in advance for Oga's Cantina and other experiences in the new land (such as building a lightsaber at Savi's Workshop or building a droid at Droid Depot). With many new travelers coming from galaxies far, far away to make a stop in the trading outpost on planet Batuu, you'll want to have reservations in place so you do not miss out. Some of these experiences can make a great holiday gift (as does a "Batuuan Spira" gift card). Read more about these exciting details and about the new land in our Galactic Guide to Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.
Fun Facts about the Holidays at Disneyland
- You can typically find a menorah and Hanukkah decorations in the window of Julius Katz & Sons on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure. In past years, there has been a menorah in a second-story window on Main Street, U.S.A. Can you find it? We have spotted two different menorahs across from the stroller parking near The Little Mermaid ride in Disney California Adventure too!
- Enjoy Hanukkah music throughout the Festival of Holidays, as well as Mater’s take on the Dreidel Song (“Oh, tractor, tractor, tractor, I love to watch ‘em spin; and when they get all tired, they stop and then I win”). We always enjoy musical performances from Mostly Kosher.
- There were 3,500 colored lights, 1,500 Victorian-inspired ornaments and 100 faux candles on the 60-foot-tall 2020 Disneyland Christmas tree!
- The Carthay Circle Christmas tree in Disney California Adventure is nearly 50 feet tall! It's decorated with vintage-style ornaments.
- The tree lighting takes place at 4:55 p.m.
- Disneyland pumps Christmas-y smells into a treat section of “it’s a small world” during the holidays. Get your sniffer ready to identify three additional new scents in "it's a small world!" You'll also notice a gingerbread aroma in Haunted Mansion Holiday. Note yummy smells that accompany snowfall, as well.
- Disneyland also pumps holiday scents into Main Street during the holidays. We kept getting whiffs of pumpkin spice or perhaps gingerbread last year.
- “it’s a small world” Holiday glows with over 50,000 lights and video projections.
- It takes almost three dozen cast members 35 days to install the glittering lights on the facade of "it's a small world." Plus, it takes nearly 18 days to decorate the interior.
- Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle is illuminated with over 126,000 twinkling LED lights and icicles.
- Disney ¡Viva Navidad! at California Adventure is an authentic Latino street fiesta, featuring musicians, dancers and storytellers.
- The Main Street, U.S.A. exterior is decorated with about 220 garlands, measuring more than four miles long! About 80 wreaths and 120 bows bring the seasonal charm to life.
- More than 80,000 ornaments are used to decorate Main Street!
- Be sure to check out the holiday decorations in Downtown Disney.
- If you are staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels, you can plan ahead for personalized holiday in-room celebrations and decorations to make your trip extra special.
- Disney's Grand Californian Hotel lobby hosts a giant gingerbread replica of the hotel, created with over 500 pounds of gingerbread and 60 gallons of frosting and icing. Hop in to enjoy it and bask in the glow of the beautiful Christmas tree, along with some delicious cookies, treats and beverages near the crackling fire. Perhaps you’ll even get a chance to tell Santa what you’d like for Christmas!
No matter how you choose to celebrate the holidays at Disneyland, expect to make magical holiday memories. What questions do you have for us about this year's event?
Related: Favorite Disneyland Holiday Treats