Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas at Walt Disney World 1971

Just two months after its opening in October 1971, Walt Disney World launched its very first holiday-themed celebrations.  We thought we would put on our theme parkeologist pith helmets and see what we could uncover about Mickey's very first Christmas in Florida.

On December 12, a newspaper report announced:
"Walt Disney World's first Christmas will be a spirited two-week holiday full of gaiety, tradition, colorful Disney character parades, and commemorative religious pageantry of the season.Yuletide decorations will bring added sparkle to the already fun-filled Magic Kingdom — "decked out" literally for Christmas with a giant tree and hundreds of wreaths of hemlock and holly.  Special daily Holiday Parades (beginning December 20) and two mammoth candlelight processionals are part of the spectacular events scheduled for the holidays.

Florally adorned by poinsettias, snapdragons, petunias and 50,000 pansies, the theme park will feature lights and decorations in each of the Main Street shop windows. And in Town Square, a snowy, 50-foot Christmas tree, especially selected and cut from a forest in Paradise, Mich., will serve as a colorful centerpiece for the festive theme park celebration. More than 1,200 lights and a thousand giant ornaments adorn the tree."
The Holiday Parade was performed twice each day from December 10 through January 2.  According to the newspaper account, the parade included, "marching toy soldiers, dancing reindeer, marching bands, girls playing glockenspiels and 50 famous Disney characters come to life."  And of course Santa Claus as well.

The resort's very first Candlelight Processionals were held on December 18 and 19 at 6pm each evening.  The processional traveled down Main Street to the Cinderella Castle forecourt where the performance took place.  1200 carolers from across the state of Florida made up the choir.  Rock Hudson narrated the Christmas story while Frederick Fennell conducted the orchestra.  The living Christmas tree was made up of boys choirs from Orlando and St. Petersburg.

A New Years Eve party at the Magic Kingdom featured entertainment by Tommy Roe and bandleader Bob Crosby.

The Magic Kingdom was open on Christmas Eve from 9am to 6pm; Christmas Day hours were 10am to 6pm.  Extended hours from 9am to midnight were in effect for the week between Christmas and New Years.  The park remained open until 2am on New Years Eve.