The season of celebration has returned to Walt Disney World, and we’ve got your Unofficial Guide to enjoying the 2023 EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, no matter what traditions you observe this time of year.
From November 24 through December 30, 2023, EPCOT is once again bringing together end-of-year celebrations from cultures around the world, and this year’s Festival of the Holidays is stuffed like a stocking with ways to feel the seasonal spirit. There are six merry milestones to mark this month at EPCOT, so grab your free passport at the park gate and follow us through the Festival of the Holidays!
Christmas (In Any Language)
As The Muppets’ Sam Eagle might say, the 2023 EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays is a celebration of all holidays…but mostly Christmas.
Of course, you’ll find the traditional towering Christmas tree as the centerpiece of the park, in front of World Showcase Plaza.
And the American version of Santa Claus, complete with an oversize sled, poses for photo ops periodically throughout the day inside the Odyssey building.
But make your way deeper into the World Showcase, and you’ll find more intriguing international interpretations of Old Saint Nick, from Norway’s trickster Barn Santa and the United Kingdom’s Father Christmas. Our favorite is France’s Pere Noel, who is wonderfully interactive with youngsters.
You’ll also find Christmas celebrated in the song of many languages around the lagoon. Outside the Mexico Pavilion, Mariachi Cobre—among the park’s oldest performing groups—hosts rousing Las Posadas Celebrations.
On the other hand, just outside the Germany Pavilion, you’ll find an EPCOT holiday act so new that they aren’t listed in the printed passport. Tanzhaus Johan performs uptempo German Christmas carols with a lighthearted twist…such as when they work Harry Belafonte’s “Banana Boat Song“ into a Santa tune.
Enjoy a front-row seat to a performance by Tanzhaus Johan with this video:
Last but not least, the spectacular annual Candlelight Processional is the most in-demand live production at the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays, particularly on nights with a popular celebrity narrator.
In order to secure a seat, you’ll want to either invest in a dining package or get in the standby queue at least an hour before showtime. Acceptable standing room views can usually be found just outside the American Gardens Theater up to a few minutes before showtime (if your legs can last through the 45-minute show). And note that even those with seats may have their sightlines obscured by trees and supporting poles.
Watch the 2023 Candlelight Processional, featuring celebrity narrator Luis Fonsi, here:
While it might not have the massive massed choir of the Candlelight Processional, no musical show at this year’s EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays hits harder than Joyful! A Musical Celebration of the Season, which celebrates both Christmas and the Black American festival Kwanzaa through R&B-infused gospel music. And if you see the show starting on December 26th, they will be including additional Kwanzaa songs in their repertoire.
Each set, this multitalented cast of powerhouse vocalists, high-energy dancers, and funkadelic musicians pounds out 25 minutes of exuberant soul music (in the literal and figurative senses) with passion and precision. It’s a shame that this show is performed on an unshaded stage in World Showcase Plaza, with no proper seating for the audience, because it deserves to be seen.
Watch a complete performance of Joyful! in 4K below:
Hanukkah is a relatively minor festival on the Jewish religious calendar, but due to its proximity to Christmas, EPCOT is giving the Maccabees a micro-pavilion between France and Morocco.
In addition to a food stand, there’s a supersize menorah (to be illuminated during the eight nights of the holiday), which doubles as the backdrop for a one-man musical show.
Zachary the Hanukkah Storyteller guides guests through a greatest hits of Hanukkah, including both the familiar favorites—including an interactive “Dreidel“ chorus—and some beautiful Sephardic stories and songs that may be unfamiliar to many members of the tribe.
Go to the L’Chaim booth and nosh on their tasty trio of a pastrami sandwich on rye (with deli mustard and a dill spear); a ginormous black-and-white cookie (with the frosting still moist); and a whiskey sour spiked with Manischewitz.
Then sit back and enjoy this complete performance of EPCOT’s Hanukkah Storyteller:
New Years (Solar or Lunar)
As always, EPCOT and the rest of the Western world will celebrate New Year’s Eve on December 31st with pomp and fireworks. But for billions of people in Asia, the New Year doesn’t arrive until February 10, 2024, when it is observed on the Lunar calendar. Unlike Disney California Adventure, EPCOT doesn’t yet host a dedicated Lunar New Year celebration in the correct season, but it has folded it into the Festival of the Holidays.
In China, look for the colorful Chinese Lion Dancers outside the 360 theater. And in Japan, don’t miss the Daruma Storyteller, a comical-yet-educational monologue about a Buddhist ritual for granting wishes in the new year.
Enjoy this front-seat POV of Japan’s Daruma Storyteller in 4K:
If the show makes you hungry, try a bowl of warm soba noodle soup with tempura-fried shrimp; it’s a perfect snack-size, savory way to warm up on a frigid Florida winter day when the temperature dips into the 60s!
Disney executives and shareholders may not have much to celebrate about the box office underperformance of Wish, their 100th animated feature film. But that hasn’t stopped EPCOT from rolling out the red carpet for Asha, the latest Disney princess, and her new fans…at least temporarily.
For now, you can find Asha meeting and greeting intermittently throughout the day under the gazebo in World Showcase Plaza near Disney Traders. She takes time to speak with each guest, so be prepared for a slow-moving queue.
By the way, Asha isn’t the only princess you’ll find visiting EPCOT this holiday season; while in France visiting Pere Noel, also keep an eye out for Belle in her red velvet Christmas attire.
At the end of the night, you can see Spaceship Earth come to life as the “Beacons of Light“ illuminates in synch with “I’m a Star“ from the Wish soundtrack.
See the Wish “Beacons of Light“ in this 4K video:
Food (Because You Eat Every Day!)
Finally, you don’t need to know anything about the reason behind the season to indulge in the food and drink offered at the Holiday Kitchens throughout the park.
If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’re going to want to get your passport stamped as you navigate this year’s cookie stroll; eight options include the aforementioned Black & White. Just be warned that this year’s star-shaped completion treat may be too adorable for you to eat!
While it’s always good to have familiar flavors at the holiday table, we were a little disappointed to learn that the three stands advertised as “new“ for the 2023 Festival of the Holidays are virtually identical to ones that debuted during EPCOT’s 2023 International Food & Wine Festival. But we got over it because it meant the return of one of our previous favorite items—Brine & Bubble’s crab claw with mustard sauce—
and introduced us to a new favorite, Char & Chop’s spicy Impossible sausage with polenta and putanesca.
And for a perfect way to sit and digest all that food while contemplating where it came from, don’t miss this year’s Glimmering Greenhouses makeover of Living with the Land, which enlivens the boat ride’s normally sterile agricultural structures with swaths of glowing LED lights.
Be sure to ride this one after dark; standby waits will double after sunset, but this high-capacity queue moves very quickly.
Take a front-row ride through the Living with the Land Glimmering Greenhouses through this 4K POV video:
To revisit past EPCOT International Festivals of the Holidays, follow these links:
For all there is to see and do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, or to plan your family’s trip to Orlando, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids.