10 Yuletide To-Dos for the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays
‘Tis the season for the most festive of Epcot festivals: the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. They say that Christmas comes but once a year, but when it comes, it brings good cheer—and the same thing goes for Festival of the Holidays. Running from the day after Thanksgiving through the day before New Year’s Eve, the Epcot Festival of the Holidays might be one of the shorter seasonal soirees hosted at the park. However, what it lacks in staying power, it more than makes up for with abundant yuletide spirit, offering plenty of ways to make merry.
Whether you’re in the mood for festive food and drink offerings, holly-jolly holiday decorations, wintertime tunes, treasured traditions or you just want to see Santa, the Festival of the Holidays has it all. So, if you’re planning to dash on over to the International Festival of the Holidays this year, dust off your finest (or ugliest) holiday sweater and keep reading as we unwrap the best that this Epcot event has to offer.
Top 10 Epcot Festival of the Holidays Activities to Add to Your Wishlist
In 2023, the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays runs from Friday, November 24 through Saturday, December 30, with a little over five festive weeks of spirited activities, joyful performances, Santa-approved dishes and drinks, and a whole sleighful of yuletide traditions from around the world. Oh, and not to mention, all the jolly holiday decorations that blanket the park like freshly fallen snow! In short, no matter which wintertime holiday you and yours hold dear, there’s no better place to celebrate the season than the Disney Festival of the Holidays. But exactly what holiday happenings should you add to your Epcot Christmas to-do list this year? Here are some ideas that are sure to leave you feeling merry and bright.
1. Check Out the Festive Holiday Decorations That Deck the Halls
It wouldn’t be the holidays without a flurry of festive decorations. Fortunately, Epcot gets all dressed up for the occasion with globally inspired décor sprinkled around World Showcase (think garlands strung with poinsettias and papel picado in the Mexico Pavilion), a giant Christmas tree in World Showcase Plaza and trimmings and trappings in other parts of the park. Even Living with the Land receives a merry makeover especially for the season. So, as you’re walking to the next Holiday Kitchen or trying to kill some time before another live performance on your list, be sure to slow things down a bit so that you can fully enjoy Epcot in all its seasonal splendor.
2. Set Out on a Festive Quest with Olaf’s Holiday Tradition Expedition Scavenger Hunt
From cleverly incorporated Hidden Mickeys to the veritable forest’s worth of uniquely themed and elaborately decorated yuletide pines that are the centerpiece of the Disney Springs Christmas Tree Stroll, we love doing a scavenger hunt whenever we visit Walt Disney World. (Yup, they aren’t just for kids!) Fortunately, Disney World scavenger hunts are a staple at each and every Epcot festival. And bonus! Not only are they a bunch of fun to do, but you even get a reward at the end once you’ve successfully found everything.
At the International Festival of the Holidays, you’ll be setting out across World Showcase in search of everyone’s favorite snowman, who has gotten lost while trying to track down different yuletide traditions from around the globe. To get started on Olaf’s Holiday Tradition Expedition Scavenger Hunt, you’ll first need to grab a map and stickers ($9.99 plus tax) from either World Traveler or Creations Shop. Then, as you make your way to the different World Showcase country pavilions, simply use the corresponding stickers to mark where you find Olaf and each tradition on the map. After you’ve finished, stop by Creations Shop, Port of Entry or World Traveler to pick up your prize.
3. Hear About Yuletide Traditions Around the World from Holiday Storytellers
Do you wish that you could go straight to the source to learn about the world’s fascinating festive traditions? Well, you’re in luck! At several World Showcase pavilions, you can enjoy yuletide tales told by holiday storytellers, who share the unique wintertime traditions of their cultures. Typically, storytellers share their cultural traditions several times each day, with the exception of the Las Posadas Celebration at the Mexico Pavilion, which only takes place Sunday through Thursday. So, we suggest that you check out the Festival Passport or the My Disney Experience app for the showtimes that day. Each showing lasts around 15 to 20 minutes. Holiday storytellers at the Epcot Festival of the Holidays include:
Las Posadas Celebration featuring Mariachi Cobre at the Mexico Pavilion
A Mischievous Magical Barn Santa at the Norway Pavilion
Chinese Lion Dancer at the China Pavilion
La Befana at the Italy Pavilion
Daruma Storyteller at the Japan Pavilion
Pere Noel at the France Pavilion
Father Christmas at the United Kingdom Pavilion
Canadian Holiday Voyageurs at the Canada Pavilion
4. Pose for a Photo with Old St. Nick
Christmas wouldn’t be complete without an appearance by and photo with Kris Kringle. Although the jolly old elf is pretty busy this time of year, he takes time out of his hectic schedule to greet his adoring fans and pose for photos throughout the festive season over at The Odyssey Pavilion. (In fact, Santa Claus meets with good girls and boys in several places around Disney World. So, if you don’t have a chance to see him at Festival of the Holidays, you’ll have plenty of other chances.) At Epcot, Santa holds court daily from November 24 through December 24, giving him just enough time to get up to speed on everyone’s wishlists before heading back to the North Pole for his big night. Appearances take place at 11:00 AM, 12:30 PM, 2:00 PM, 3:30 PM, 5:00 PM and 6:30 PM.
5. Get in the Holiday Spirit with JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season
Ready to rock around the Christmas tree? Then be sure to stop by World Showcase Plaza for a live performance of JOYFUL! A Celebration of the Season. Taking to the stage several times each day, this spirited musical group sings a merry medley of holiday songs with plenty of soul, sharing the joy of the season. We snow you’ll love the sounds of soaring Gospel and soulful R&B with a yuletide twist. Shows are held at 1:15 PM, 2:20 PM, 3:25 PM and 4:30 PM.
6. Hear the Story of Christmas During the Candlelight Processional
If you need a little help remembering the reason for the season (although we’re pretty sure you’ll be just fine after that last suggestion), then you definitely won’t want to miss the Candlelight Processional. A mainstay of Walt Disney World at Christmastime ever since 1971, when it first made its East Coast debut at Magic Kingdom, this ever-popular stage show features an inspiring retelling of the Christmas story and stars a celebrity narrator backed by a mass choir and a full orchestra. Along with the star-powered nativity story, guests are also regaled with a setlist of beloved Christmas carols, like “Joy to the World” and “Silent Night.” In other words, it’s a stirring performance that might just have you feeling as if you’re at church instead of a theme park.
Epcot’s Candlelight Processional takes place three times each night—5:15 PM, 7:00 PM and 8:30 PM—at the America Gardens Theatre in World Showcase’s American Adventure Pavilion, from November 24 to December 30, 2023. Bear in mind that this classic Disney World Christmas show is incredibly popular, especially on nights with certain celebrity narrators (we’re looking at you, Neil Patrick Harris). So, if you want a seat near the stage, you’re going to have to be in line quite a bit early. Alternatively, if you’d rather have a guaranteed seat without spending a ton of time in line, you can also book a Candlelight Processional Dining Package. (Learn more about other Disney World dining packages here.)
7. Be Dazzled by a Light Display at Living with the Land – Glimmering Greenhouses
We don’t know about you, but one of our favorite parts of the holiday season is the kaleidoscope of fairy lights that seems to be around every corner, including the greenhouses that are part of Epcot’s Living with the Land. That’s right—throughout the Festival of the Holidays, this easygoing boat ride will undergo a yuletide transformation into Living with the Land – Glimmering Greenhouses. So, as you float merrily along, you’ll enjoy a twinkling tour past rows of magically aglow produce and seasonal vignettes. For an especially enchanting and, dare we say, romantic experience (Disney date night, anyone?), try to time your ride for after sunset so that you can appreciate the attraction in all its holly-jolly glory.
8. Sample Festive Flavors from Across the Globe at the Holiday Kitchens
No matter what you celebrate, the highlight of many a wintertime holiday is its festive flavors. But the Epcot Festival of the Holidays is so much more than turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce or milk and cookies, though you will certainly find all of those, too. Rather, you’ll find Christmas classics mixed in with a buffet of seasonal snacks and sips inspired by culinary cultural traditions from around the world. This is the International Festival of the Holidays, after all!
Holiday Kitchens peppered throughout World Showcase and beyond cook up all sorts of global goodies, offering a taste of the yuletide traditions that make cozy season so magical. With so many different dishes and drinks on offer, we suggest that you plan out your day using the menus in the Festival Passport. You can also get an ideas of what’s on offer ahead of the time with the My Disney Experience app or by checking out our Festival of the Holidays foodie guide. Who knows—you might even come away with a new holiday tradition of your own.
9. Make Like Santa and Treat Yourself to Seasonal Sweets on the Holiday Cookie Stroll
As anyone knows, the foremost authority on Christmas is, of course, Santa Claus. So, why not pay tribute to Old St. Nick by enjoying one of his favorite holiday treats? The humble, yet incredibly delightful, cookie. Although you won’t be able to dunk your cookies in a cold glass of milk à la Kris Kringle (unless it’s a milkshake, milk stout or milk tea, that is), by taking part in the Holiday Cookie Stroll, you will be able to embark on whirlwind world tour of desserts, just like Santa does every Christmas Eve. To participate, all you need to do is buy five cookies from the list below and keep track of them by getting your Festival Passport stamped when you make each purchase. Then, after you’ve checked the last cookie off your Christmas list, show your completed passport to a cast member at Holiday Sweets & Treats to collect an extra-special cookie—for free!
L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen – Black and White Cookie (plant-based)
Nochebuena Cocina – Spiced Chocolate Cookie
Sunshine Seasons – Jingle Sugar Cookie made with M&M’s
Yukon Holiday Kitchen – Snickerdoodle Cookie made with SNICKERS
10. Do Some Holiday Gift Shopping or Score a Seasonal Souvenir
The holidays aren’t just known as cozy season. They’re also the busiest shopping season of the year, starting with Black Friday, which just so happens to be the kickoff of the Festival of the Holidays. Coincidence? We think not. And along with all the incredible Disney-themed and internationally sourced or inspired merchandise that you can already find at Epcot all year round, this festive fête also brings a selection of limited-time yuletide treasures created especially for the festival. So, why not use the festival as an opportunity to check some people off of your holiday gift list or maybe even get a little special something for yourself?
Are you heading to Epcot during the holidays this year? What are your favorite things to do at the International Festival of the Holidays? Let us know in the comments! Then, learn how to stretch your travel budget and keep a little cash in your holiday savings our Disney World discount tickets.