What Is Your Disney, or Other Theme Park, Holiday Tradition?

November 25, 2022, 2:09 PM · Welcome to another Christmas holiday season! Celebrations began today at Walt Disney World's Epcot, Universal Studios Hollywood, and other U.S. theme parks that held back until after Thanksgiving day.

The year-end holidays bring the largest crowds of the year to Walt Disney World and the Disneyland Resort, while also extending the season at many regional parks, including Dollywood and Silver Dollar City, which go all out for the Christmas events. So, yeah, the holidays are popular at theme parks.

But what do theme parks' holiday celebrations mean for you and your family? I was thinking about this question when re-reading one of my all-time favorite cast member stories, My Christmas morning at Walt Disney World.

Not every family gives up their Christmas presents to visit Disney, but many families have made theme park visits part of their holiday traditions. With the decline of shopping malls, theme parks have become perhaps the most prominent public spaces in which people come together - across faith and cultural communities - to celebrate the holidays in the United States.

That's not necessarily the case everywhere, of course. On the road to Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, my family started talking about Christmas markets in Europe and how much we wanted to go see them. One of us asked if there were any Christmas markets here in Southern California.

"Sure," I replied. "At Disney and Knott's."

With its food and drink marketplaces, Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure leans more into the "stuff your face" side of Christmas markets, while Knott's Christmas Crafts fair leans more into the "trim the tree" and "buy your presents" side. And while many European Christmas markets can offer history and tradition that American theme parks cannot match, no temporary Christmas market is going to have the line-up of rides and shows you can find at American theme parks. So we've got some good stuff going over here.

What is your favorite theme park holiday tradition, and why? I invite you to share yours in the comments, and also would like to remind you that we are taking nominations for Best Holiday Event and the rest of our annual Theme Park Insider Awards right now. Just subscribe to our weekly email to see how to submit your nominations.

Best wishes to everyone this holiday season, and thank you for reading Theme Park Insider.

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Replies (8)

November 25, 2022 at 8:01 PM

Grabbing a mug of gluhwein (or some other hot beverage) and watching the nighttime performance of the Sesame Street Christmas Parade at SeaWorld Orlando. For some reason, that always gets me in the holiday mood and my entire Christmas season is ruined if I don't catch it at least once.

November 26, 2022 at 9:06 AM

'Toys for Tots' shopping at Disney Springs, followed by drinks and appetizers at one of the restaurants. This year it was Wine Bar George for a coffe and double shotof Amaretto. Also gave us a chance to say hello to owner George Miliotes. Happy holidays!

November 26, 2022 at 11:48 PM

After way too many crowded, expensive, disappointing experiences, my holiday theme park tradition is to stay the heck away. I only go to theme parks now when crowds are at their lowest and maybe there is a discount.

November 27, 2022 at 8:28 AM

My wife and I always enjoy a few rounds at the Rose and Crown followed by the Candlelight Processional at Epcot. Truly a must-see if you are ever at Epcot during the holiday season.

November 27, 2022 at 8:46 AM

My wife and I were in Universal Orlando the week before Thanksgiving. It was nice that everything was dressed up for the holidays, but we mostly went because it's relatively quiet that week and the weather is usually great. Around Christmas we'd rather travel with our kids than spend money on presents. Sometimes that means going to a park. We went to Carowinds a few years ago, and this year we're going to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. I actually like those parks, Kings Dominion, and Dollywood for the holidays more than Disney or Universal. The theming seems stronger, and although there are crowds, it still seems like a much more relaxed experience than either of the big 2.

November 27, 2022 at 6:00 PM

My favorite Disney holiday tradition is the thanksdisneygiving parade and the Disney Claus movie.

November 29, 2022 at 3:43 AM

Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood has been my go-to for the past few years. Taking a pic with the bent tree and getting a nice hot butterbeer from Hogsmeade is always a blast. Not sure how long it's been a thing but the Christmas show projected onto the side of Hogwarts is always great to see

November 29, 2022 at 5:42 AM

I’ve been going to at least one every year, the days preceding and/or following Thanksgiving while meeting up with my family members which are scattered over the East Coast.

When my kids were young enough, Sesame Place was a constant every year the weekend before Thanksgiving to kick off our 10 day Road Trip.

We’ve done Dollywood 3 times over the past decade, including this year. It was always great to go there on Thanksgiving evening/night as well as the following day. But this year they were closed on Thanksgiving, so we only went one day. The other Pigeon Forge attractions were overcrowded and the roads very congested as a result of Dollywood being closed on Thanksgiving. If Dollywood is going to be closed on Thanksgiving going forward, I think we will avoid Pigeon Forge, as the extra crowding made it much more difficult to enjoy ourselves.

In 2019 we actually hit Sesame Place, BGW and Dollywood all in the same trip.

Last year was Orlando/Tampa and we hit them all, including BGT. The Disney Parks left a lot to be desired, with the upcharge after hours party being the only thing that really made any type of effort towards a Holiday Celebration. SeaWorld and BGT however were outstanding, and Grinchmas was also very good (although outside of Suess Landing, Universal wasn’t much better than Disney).

Finally, just 2 days ago we hit Winterfest at Kings Island for the first time ever, and it was outstanding ! Quite possibly my favorite one yet, it’s really close between that, Seaworld Orlando and both Busch Gardens parks.

Next year I think we’ll try to hit Winterfest in either Kings Dominion or Carowinds, since we enjoyed the one at Kings Island so much…

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