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Is Small World Holiday the best, or worst, of Disney's holiday overlays?

November 30, 2016, 12:26 PM · Disneyland's It's a Small World Holiday celebrates its 20th anniversary this year... and I get all Grinch on it in my Orange County Register column this week. (Sorry for mixing some corporate IP there....)

If you haven't seen it, the holiday overlay adds the music of "Jingle Bells" and "Deck the Halls" to the ride's "It's a Small World (After All)" theme song. Throw in holiday-themed decorations throughout the ride and you've got a joyful Christmas celebration that breaks up the monotony of listening to the Sherman Brothers' theme song over and over for the ride's 10 minutes.

So why don't I like it?

Well, it's not that I don't enjoy the experience as much as I'm bothered by the juxtaposition of Christmas theming with the message of cultural unity in the original version of Small World. Does the Christmas theming disrespect the non-Christian cultures referenced in Small World? Or does the global celebration of Christmas by nonbelievers neutralize the religious significance of the holiday?

Either way, the overlay gets me thinking about this symbolic conflict, when the whole point of It's a Small World was to create a vision of a world without conflict. ("I came here to feel, not to think"?) Still, the holiday version does help me appreciate the brilliance of the original version even more, but I rank it my least favorite of Disney's holiday overlays for standing attractions, behind Haunted Mansion Holiday, Jingle Cruise, and the (now only in Tokyo) Country Bear Christmas Special.

Take a video ride and decide for yourself:

And while we're at it, here are the full show videos for Haunted Mansion Holiday (last year's version), the Jingle Cruise, and the Tokyo installation of the Country Bear Christmas show. (Update: I'd originally forgotten about the Jingle Cruise, but now have added it.)

How would you rank Disney's holiday overlays?

Read Robert's column:

Replies (17)

November 30, 2016 at 12:46 PM · It's the original Christmas or Holiday overlay. This is what started it all. They followed it's success with the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and Jingle Cruise (which is the worst). Small World actually gotten better compared to the first version. The music isn't just Jingle Bells. It alternates seemlessly with It's A Small World. The ending sequence has Deck The Halls. The decorations improved. I'm more tired of Nightmare taking over Haunted Mansion.
November 30, 2016 at 2:21 PM · Jingle Cruise is the best, except of course, after the Mansion Overlay...
November 30, 2016 at 3:39 PM · I am more of respect the culture of where I'm visiting. When I'm in Chinatown San Francisco I don't need to feel left out because they they are not celebrating New Years day when I do. Also what's with all the dead ducks hanging the windows? I don't like them so it shouldn't happen. Yeah, not. When in Rome....

America loves Christmas and that is our culture. We are not ignoring others but welcome them in to see what our culture is.

November 30, 2016 at 3:40 PM · Anon Mouse - totally agree on Jingle Cruise - it just looks like a mess. There could have been a much cooler overlay that fit with the 1930's era, instead it looks like disaster struck. And agree that It's a Small World is more about global unity, shouldn't have a religious overlay.
November 30, 2016 at 5:03 PM · Shanghai Disneyland decorated for Christmas too. I thought this was odd, but it happened. Christmas decorations is considered secular in atheist China. Separately, the U.S. courts ruled that Christmas decorations with trees and Santa are secular.

Whether or not you think Christmas fits in with cultural unity, this attraction is localized. It only matters in Anaheim's Disneyland. It's awfully wrong to preemptively suggest other cultures or races are instantly offended by Christmas displays and music. I don't necessarily buy the cultural unity aspect of the attraction regardless. It might be a small world, but we are still a world apart. It's still fun to see the cultural differences as represented by kids.

November 30, 2016 at 7:24 PM · Haunted Mansion Holiday > Small World Holiday > Ghost Galaxy > Jingle Cruise.

I do get the point that not everyone celebrates Christmas, but at the same time so many non-Christians celebrate it (or at least recognize it) that I don't have a problem with the way Disney does their holiday version of the ride. After all, the word "Christmas" is never used in the attraction and the explicit Christmas symbols are left out of the Asia and Africa rooms completely. I also have mixed feelings about whether the message is really lost (or even diminished) in the holiday version of the ride anymore. In my opinion, the message of the ride was marred significantly by the addition of Disney characters, making it more of "It's a Disney World" in the minds of quite a few visitors.

November 30, 2016 at 7:59 PM · Well since Christmas is a European pagan holiday and not a bit Christian I'm not sure about that argument. That being said it is quite tacky. I'm very glad it hasn't found its way to WDW.
December 1, 2016 at 5:47 AM · Being from Ohio, I've spent more holidays at Disney World. But I was at Disneyland on November 10th when Small World Holiday opened and really appreciate the holiday overlays. All we have in Florida is the Jingle Cruise, need I say more.
December 1, 2016 at 6:19 AM · "Christmas decorations [are] considered secular in atheist China"

Have you ever been to China? I've been to Bejing in December and they had Christmas decorations everywhere. It's mostly an economic holiday but they still hung Santa all over the place. Also why would you call it "atheist China"? There are very large Muslim and Christian populations in China.

December 1, 2016 at 6:27 AM · I don't need an amusement park ride to "raise awareness" of a secularized shopping season that completely ignores the invented and co-opted mythology of Christmas. In fact, the original intent of "it's a small world" is the closest message we'll ever find in an amusement park to the ideals of peace, respect and understanding. The overlay--like all mythologies--doesn't work from the moment we scratch the surface.
December 1, 2016 at 8:47 AM · Robert, I agree with you that there are some contradictions here with the theming. I also think a previous commenter misses the point of the ride by implying that this is a ride about America, when it's exactly the opposite. However, I am not upset about this because they chose two non-religious songs for the ride, as opposed to, say "Joy to the World" or "O Holy Night". Let's face it, there is no escaping Christmas decorations and songs this time of year in the U.S.
December 1, 2016 at 8:54 AM · Anon Mouse it's not the first. The County Bears Christmas overlay was the original. That began 12 years before It's A Small World Holiday.
December 1, 2016 at 9:49 AM · Is the haunted mansion overlay only at Disneyland?
December 1, 2016 at 11:51 AM · A lot of people enjoy the holiday offerings regardless of whether they're secular or religious, and they're something different for the APs to experience, so I have mild to good feelings about all of them. America is very politically correct, and I think Disney does the best it can to please most everyone.
December 1, 2016 at 11:51 AM · A lot of people enjoy the holiday offerings regardless of whether they're secular or religious, and they're something different for the APs to experience, so I have mild to good feelings about all of them. America is very politically correct, and I think Disney does the best it can to please most everyone.
December 2, 2016 at 9:06 AM · I'll be honest here, I've never, ever liked Nightmare Before Christmas, so that overlay is easily my least favorite. The others are hit and miss, but it does make for a fun deviation from the original that's worth trying at least once.
December 2, 2016 at 1:43 PM · "Have you ever been to China?"

Yes, a few times actually.

"I've been to Bejing in December and they had Christmas decorations everywhere. It's mostly an economic holiday but they still hung Santa all over the place. Also why would you call it "atheist China"?"

Because it is. Just because they have Christmas decorations and Santa doesn't mean China is a Christian nation or it respects religion. Wait until they freely offer nativity scenes and crosses... someday.

"There are very large Muslim and Christian populations in China."

Certainly, but China actively discourages and supresses religious practices.

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