One of the more popular holiday traditions at the Disney Parks is the Candlelight Processional. Read on to learn more about the history behind this beloved holiday favorite.
Christmas at Disneyland
Disneyland first celebrated the Christmas season in 1955. A group of twelve Dickensian carolers, under the direction of Dr. Hirt from the University of Southern California (USC), caroled at various locations around the park.
The following Christmas season in 1956, the size of the choirs grew into a 300 member choir.
Visiting choirs and school bands stood together on the steps of the Train Station at the end of Main Street singing Christmas carols. They were accompanied by the Disneyland Band.
By 1957, the event continued to grow and more choirs gathered to sing together.
“Christmas Around the World Parade” was introduced this year. The procession of singing voices began at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle into the Plaza.
Thus, the first Candlelight Processional was born.
In 1960’s the Candlelight Processional was moved back to Town Square, and actor Dennis Morgan was invited to read portions of the Biblical Christmas story in between classical Christmas hymns.
The tradition then continued inviting famous celebrities to serve as the master of ceremonies as the narrator for the presentation.
In 1982, the newly formed Disney Employee Choir (volunteer Disney cast members from the Park, Studio and Walt Disney Imagineering) was selected to fill their place, an honor they have held ever since.
Candlelight Processional at WDW
The Candlelight Processional was so popular that it debuted at the Magic Kingdom in 1971.
the show moved to Epcot in 1994.
The Candlelight Processional has now grown into a majestic classical concert that features a thousand voice choir which forms a “The Living Christmas Tree.”
It is accompanied by an orchestra, fanfare trumpets, a sign-language interpreter, a guest conductor, and a celebrity narrator.
The Candlelight Processional continues to be an important yearly tradition to the present day.
Present Day Candlelight Processional at Disneyland
The Candlelight Processional continues to be take place on Main Street on the steps of the Train Station. The procession begins from “it’s a small world” and makes its way to the Train Station where the orchestra and trumpeters greet them from the top of the train station.
Over the years, many well known celebrities have read portions of the Biblical Christmas story while the choir sing classic Christmas hymns.
The event at Disneyland is usually spread out over two nights and is quite popular with guests.
It has been popular for guests arrive well over four hours before the event.
Over the years, seating near the front of the performance is mostly reserved for invited guests.
Unfortunately, the Candlelight Processional has been cancelled both at Disneyland and at Epcot for the holiday 2020 season due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
In fact, even the beloved Storytellers at Epcot have been cancelled this year.
However, you can read about the various traditions and customs from each country in the World Showcase on a holiday adventure series that I have been sharing twice a week.
It also comes with no surprise that Disneyland cancelled their Candlelight Processional as the park has yet to reopen their doors to guests since March.
Back in July, Downtown Disney first opened its doors for dining and shopping at World of Disney.
Currently, Buena Vista Street located inside Disney’s California Adventures opened to the public for shopping and limited dining.
You can read more about the opening here.
KTP Writer’s Memorable Experiences
As the Candlelight Processional is such a beautiful experience, I wanted to share the memories that our other KTP writers have made while watching the performance.
Not even the rain could put a damper on my one and only candlelight processional experience. It rained pretty hard and steady for a while before the performance – including while we were sitting in the theater waiting for it to start. Thankfully it stopped shortly before the start of the show and held off until after it was over. My family absolutely loved the performance. The orchestra and choir were breathtaking and listening to Neil Patrick Harris retell the nativity story was beautiful. He did a wonderful job, and my kids sat there enthralled the entire time. I had planned to take my husband this year for his birthday to see Gary Sinise narrate, but I am hopeful the processional will return in 2021.
Last year was my first experience at the Candlelight Processional and it was well worth the wait. Neil Patrick Harris was the narrator and his retelling of the birth of Jesus was riveting. Adding in the live orchestra and brightly robed choir, this was a beautiful celebration of the true meaning of Christmas. Although we will miss this experience this year, our family hopes to enjoy this once again in 2021.
My first Candlelight Processional was when I was a little kid. I remember my dad bought the dining package and we had a lovely dinner at Alfredo’s in Italy before watching the show. The music was so wonderful. My dad actually contacted the director who wrote the pieces and obtained the sheet music for “They Rejoiced with Exceeding Great Joy” and “Il Le Ne Le Divin Enfant”. Now our choir sings them at Christmastime. I have enjoyed returning over the years and it’s such a wonderful event to watch. For us, we love seeing the religious part of Christmas represented at the parks in a way that is inclusive and welcoming to all guests.
Although I personally have never attended the Disneyland Candlelight Processional, I have experienced it at Epcot on Christmas Day.
You can read about my experience here.
If you are missing the Candlelight Processional you can relive it by watching a 2019 presentation provided by the Disney Parks Blog.