The Most ‘Merriest’ Disneyland Christmas & Holiday Season Guide
‘Tis the holiday season, and that means it’s the most wonderful time of the year for a trip to Disneyland Park in California. There’s something magical about Christmas at Disneyland. From the Disney Christmas decorations (complete with an enchanted snowfall) to plenty of yuletide treats, you’re sure to leave with a smile on your face and enough holiday spirit to keep you feeling jolly all Christmas long.
But, just what sort of festive fun can you expect to get into this Disneyland Christmas 2021? Bring a pen and some paper and your tackiest holiday sweater as we unwrap all the yuletide treasures you can experience this year.
Already bursting with Buddy the Elf-levels of Christmas cheer? Before you book your Disneyland vacation, here are some things to keep in mind when planning your merry adventure.
When does Christmas start at Disneyland Park?
This year, holiday celebrations are planned at Disneyland Resort for November 12 to January 9, 2022. So, even if you can’t visit during Christmas week – or heck, even in December – you’ll still have plenty of time to be able to soak up the festive atmosphere. Best of all, since both Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park (Downtown Disney, too!) get all decked out for the holidays, there’s no shortage of yuletide-inspired activities to keep you busy all vacation long.
When does Disneyland decorate for Christmas?
Although the festivities officially run from November 12 to January 9, Disneyland actually gets its merry makeover a little bit before that. Typically, once Halloween passes, Disneyland Park and the rest of the Anaheim resort get transformed basically overnight into a winter wonderland. Talk about Disney magic!
Having said that, while a flurry of Disneyland Christmas decorations does go up at the beginning of November, it will still take a while for some attractions to undergo their yuletide transformations. So, if catching all of the holiday hoopla is important to you, we suggest you plan your visit for the official Disneyland holiday season. We’ll dig into what you can expect for Disney Christmas decorations a little bit later.
Is Disneyland open on Christmas Day?
Although Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park were both closed for Christmas Day in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, we are happy to say that both theme parks will be welcoming guests in 2021. Best of all, if you’re dreaming of a Disneyland Christmas Day, you’ll have lots of time to celebrate and explore, as the park is set to be open from 8 AM to midnight.
Keep in mind, however, that while the thought of spending Christmas Day at Disneyland may be tempting, the actual experience isn’t quite as magical as you might think. Why? Well, because the holiday season, specifically the week of Christmas and New Year’s, isn’t just the most wonderful time of the year at Disneyland Resort. I’s also arguably the busiest time of the year.
Disneyland at Christmas is so popular, in fact, that at the time of writing, all park pass reservations are already currently taken. However, as last-minute cancellations and changes do happen, we recommend checking back in the days leading up to Christmas Day to see if something becomes available.
What to Expect for Christmas at Disneyland in 2021
After a decidedly Grinch-like forced hiatus last year due to Covid-19, the Christmas season has made its triumphant return to Disneyland Park, and we couldn’t be happier. From blankets of twinkle lights to hand-pulled candy canes worthy of a mobile waitlist, here are all of the holiday happenings at The Happiest Place on Earth in 2021.
Disneyland Christmas Decorations
One of the best parts of the holidays is festive Christmas decorations, and you’ll find a veritable blizzard of wintery décor throughout Disneyland Park. From the moment you set foot on Main Street, U.S.A., you are surrounded by an explosion of yuletide splendor.
Lush garlands dripping with ornaments and ribbons draped from the rooftops, storefronts festooned with grand wreaths and, of course, cascades of twinkle lights delight the eye around every corner. A 60-foot Christmas tree bedecked with lights and baubles sits in Town Square, while at the heart of the park, Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle stuns with blankets of icy fairy lights glittering like freshly fallen snow. This dazzling display is also the centerpiece of the “Believe… in Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular, glimmering to life twice a night.
Just as enchanting each year is “it’s a small world” Holiday. Typically, this holly-jolly makeover extends from the iconic façade to the twee world tour itself, making the classic attraction a must-see each winter.
Unfortunately, although “it’s a small world” Holiday is mentioned on the list of festive offerings in 2021, this yuletide upgrade is conspicuously missing from the parks, replaced instead by refurbishment walls which could be up for up to a year. One thing is for sure: We’ll miss the attraction’s charming seasonal transformation and look forward to its return.
Although Fantasyland may be quite a bit dimmer this Christmas, there’s still a ton of holiday spirit to enjoy around the rest of Disneyland Park. New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Mickey’s Toontown, Critter Country and Fantasy Faire are also all dressed up in their best Christmas decorations, with each land getting its own specially-themed décor.
New Orleans Square sparkles with elaborate trappings in rich, vibrant hues that would be right at home in The Big Easy, while Frontierland roughs things up a bit with rustic accents like cowboy boots and pinecones. Or, for Disney Christmas decorations even the kids can appreciate, make your way to Mickey’s Toontown, where the holiday décor oozes character. Disney characters that is! Keep an eye out for cartoonish, playful ornaments inspired by the likes of Mickey, Minnie and more.
Christmas Disneyland Events & Attractions
When you aren’t ogling all the yuletide trimmings and trappings, be sure to experience the special events and holiday overlays at popular Disneyland attractions to really immerse yourself in the Christmas spirit. While Disney Merriest Nites may already be all sold out, festive takeovers of the Haunted Mansion and “it’s a small world” can be enjoyed all season long.
Disney Merriest Nites After Hours Party
Disney fans must be on Santa’s good list this year because the west coast is finally joining Walt Disney World and getting its very own Disneyland Christmas party, Disney Merriest Nites. This seasonal, after-hours soiree runs on select evenings in November and December and is made up of six uniquely themed festive fêtes spread throughout Disneyland Park.
These merry gatherings are hosted by some of Disney’s most beloved characters. On Main Street, U.S.A., Mickey entertains at a Victorian-inspired party complete with falling snow and carolers. It’s fiesta time in Frontierland, where Miguel from Coco fronts a Feliz Navidad Party. New Orleans Square is Tiana’s domain. Here you can enjoy beads and beignets as you swing along to some festive jazz.
Winter wouldn’t be winter without an appearance by Elsa. Party alongside the ice queen at her Frozen-themed party in Fantasyland. Then, thaw out with Lilo and Stitch in Adventureland during their Tropical Party. Finally, do some futuristic merrymaking in Tomorrowland alongside Buzz Lightyear as you dance to a live DJ.
And these aren’t the only characters stopping by Merriest Nites. You’ll even see some classic and rarely seen Disney characters all dressed for the occasion in the Christmas best. In addition to partying with some of your favorite characters, guests at Merriest Nites can also nosh of specialty holiday treats, get their photo snapped in front of fun, themed backdrops and enjoy an exclusive showing of the Christmas Fantasy Parade. Best of all, because capacity is limited at the exclusive event, you’ll also enjoy shorter wait times for some of the park’s top rides.
For 2021, Disneyland Christmas party dates are set for select Tuesday and Thursday nights from November 11 to December 9 between 8:00 PM and midnight, though those with event tickets will be able to enter the park starting at 5:00 PM. As this is a separately ticketed event, a Disney Park Pass theme park reservation or general admission ticket for the day isn’t required.
Haunted Mansion Holiday Overlay
It’s Christmas meets Hallow-days at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion Holiday. Headlined by the Pumpkin King himself, the Haunted Mansion gets a chillingly cheerful makeover each Christmas courtesy of Jack Skellington, from the seasonal decorations to the frightful festive music.
For the 20th year in a row, the denizens of Halloween Town take to the Haunted Mansion for this The Nightmare Before Christmas-inspired takeover. There’s even a massive gingerbread house created especially for the attraction by the Disneyland pastry chefs.
While the Haunted Mansion can be spooky enough as it is for little ones all year long, the addition of Oogie Boogie and other Nightmare Before Christmas characters can make the attraction either a little less scary or even more intimidating. So, we recommend watching a ride-through with them beforehand to gauge their reaction ahead of time.
“it’s a small world” Holiday Lighting & Overlay (Closed for 2021 due to refurbishment)
Basically a Disney-fied version of one of those drive-through Christmas light displays, “it’s a small world” Holiday dazzles kids and adults alike. The ride’s exterior shimmers with over 50,000 lights and a short projection show in a brilliant kaleidoscope that is truly merry and bright.
Your whirlwind, worldwide cruise, meanwhile, gets a seasonal upgrade with Christmas-y additions like garland and snowflakes and “it’s a small world” takes on classic holiday carols. Think, “Jingle Shells” sung by the South Sea mermaids as they leave a tasty plate of fish out for Santa in lieu of cookies.
Beginning at dusk, “it’s a small world” lights up every 30 minutes throughout the evening with a short projection show. Since the Christmas Fantasy Parade winds directly past “it’s a small world,” we recommend you pick a parade-watching spot right out in front so you can take in the “it’s a small world” Holiday Lighting as you wait for Santa and the rest of the parade to whisk past.
Special Entertainment at Disneyland During Christmas
Just like a Disney vacation, aside from the food, fun and good times spent with loved ones (and gifts!), Christmas is all about the pageantry. So, it’s no surprise that some of the highlights of the holidays at Disneyland are spectacles like A Christmas Fantasy Parade, the “Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Show, Candlelight Processional and even some of your favorite Disney characters in their festive finery.
A Christmas Fantasy Parade
Helmed by Santa Claus in his overflowing sleigh at the rear, the Disneyland Christmas parade is called A Christmas Fantasy. This returning favorite stars a gaggle of holiday standbys, from snowmen and prancing reindeer to toy soldiers and gingerbread men, alongside beloved Disney characters and a lively soundtrack of festive tunes.
The parade cruises from “it’s a small world” down to Main Street, U.S.A. twice a day every day. Main Street is understandably a popular viewing location, so be sure to show up well ahead of time to reserve a spot if this is where you’d like to watch from. You can also get a great view from near the Matterhorn Bobsleds and, of course, by “it’s a small world.”
Want prime viewing for A Christmas Fantasy Parade but don’t want to waste time holding your spot? Consider booking the Plaza Inn Dining Package. Available for $45 per adult and $25 per child, this merry meal comes with a lunch entrée, dessert and drink, along with a voucher for access to a reserved area for watching the parade roll by. Dine on cozy, all-American classics like warming pot roast or crispy fried chicken before tucking into something sweet like a chocolatey Holiday Cake or a Red Velvet Bundt Cake studded with chocolate chips.
“Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular
No trip to Disneyland is complete without a fireworks finale. The “Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular takes to the skies over Sleeping Beauty Castle on select nights throughout the festive season. This holiday-inspired Disneyland fireworks show takes the Sleeping Beauty Castle Christmas overlay to new heights, showering its “snow-covered” turrets with sparkling colors.
To make the celebratory scene even more magical, post up in front of the castle, along Main Street, U.S.A. or in front of “it’s a small world.” You’ll get to experience something that can only be described as holiday magic: a flurry of gingerbread-scented(!) “snow” in Southern California.
Meet Santa Claus & Disney Christmas Characters in Holiday Attire
One of the cutest parts of Disneyland during the holidays is getting to see some of your favorite Disney characters looking spiffy in their yuletide best. This year, Mickey and Minnie are all decked out in holly-jolly, cold-weather gear. Mickey in his striped Santa hat, matching scarf and puffer jacket and Minnie in her polka-dotted Santa hat, matching skirt, puffer jacket and snowflake-printed leggings make for some adorable, socially distanced selfies.
Aside from everyone’s favorite mice, there’s a good chance that you’ll also get to see some other characters throughout the park donning their festive apparel, so be sure to keep a lookout. To top it all off, you and the kiddos can even meet St. Nick over in Critter Country at Pooh’s Thotful Spot. Santa holds court here throughout the day during his breaks from the North Pole, so plan some time to wave at him from afar, shout your last-minute Christmas list additions and take some selfies.
Disneyland Candlelight Processional
Although it isn’t open to all park guests, one of the most in-demand events of Christmas in Disneyland is the Candlelight Processional. This moving presentation tells the biblical story of Christmas, as retold by a celebrity narrator and backed by a full orchestra and massed choir of Disney cast members, and has been held since Walt’s days back in 1958. The soaring soundtrack of much-loved Christmas songs and star-studded narration make for a must-see event – even when viewed/listened to from afar (more on that next).
In past years, everyone from Thor’s Chris Hemsworth and Guardians of the Galaxy’s Chris Pratt to stars like musical theater hero Lin Manuel Miranda and Disney legend Dick Van Dyke have taken the narrator helm. This year, guests can look forward to Sterling K. Brown of Black Panther and This Is Us fame.
Unlike its Epcot counterpart, the Disneyland Candlelight Processional is an exclusive, invitation-only show traditionally held only two nights each holiday season, with invites typically going to VIP guests like Club 33 members. This year, the event will take place on Saturday, December 4and Sunday, December 5, 2021, at 5:30 PM and 7:45 PM in front of the Disneyland Railroad station on Main Street, U.S.A.
While the Candlelight Processional at Disneyland Park is invite-only, you can still watch – or, possibly, listen – to the show from designated standby spots along Main Street. However, as the event is incredibly popular, you’ll need to start lining up possibly several hours early to snag one of the few, highly covetable seats.
Prized bench seating is available in Town Square near the Christmas tree, while it’s standing room only near the City Hall and Opera House parts of Town Square. Remember that guests aren’t able to watch both the first and second showings each night. Instead, those that caught the first showtime must give up their spots for a second round of guests. So, if you miss out on the first slot, you might get a chance at the second viewing.
Disneyland Christmas Food & Holiday Treats
As with any other holiday gathering, delicious meals and tasty treats are a trademark of Christmastime at Disneyland Park. Themed, limited-time items are on offer throughout the park, from inviting holiday dishes like Smothered Beef with mashed potatoes and a roasted garlic au jus at French Market to Hot Cocoa Crème Brûlée with sugar cookies at Café Orleans and so much more. Of course, there are even yuletide takes on churros and funnel cakes.
Another must is the highly heralded, hand-pulled candy canes. Made in the same time-honored tradition for more than 36 years, these festive beauties are over 15 inches tall and touted as so fresh that you can taste the difference.
For the first time in, well, ever (see what we did there?), Disneyland hand-pulled candy canes will be made available through a mobile waitlist. Accordingly, we don’t actually know what this mobile waitlist will look like or how it will work. However, Disney has said that guests will give their name and phone number at Candy Palace in Disneyland Park bright and early, then the lucky (i.e., early) few will receive texts back with a return time to pick up the goodies.
At Disneyland, candy canes are only available on December 7, 9, 15, 21 and 23, 2021. If the mobile waitlist works the same way as the wristband system in past years, then your spot will entitle you to only one candy cane.
Remember, quantities are extremely limited. So, for the best chance at grabbing one, we recommend you try to get to the park at least an hour before it opens. The closer you are to those beautiful turnstiles, the better of a chance you’ll have. Then, as soon as you’re through the gates, make a mad dash (yes, we’re serious) for Candy Palace to claim your place in line – and, ultimately, your sweet reward.
Well, holiday fans, that wraps up our guide to spending Christmas in Disneyland Park in 2021. Despite the heavy crowds, there’s no question that the holiday season is a magical time at Disneyland. However, with some planning and a heaping dose of Christmas cheer (and patience), you can enjoy much of what makes this festive time so memorable.
Have you been to Disneyland at Christmas time? Which Disney Christmas decorations or events are your favorites? Where’s your top spot to watch the Disney Christmas parade or fireworks? Let us know in the comments!