Epcot's Holiday Storytellers

One of the things I enjoy doing every year is seeing the Holiday Storytellers at Epcot. Each country in World Showcase has its own holiday traditions, and at various times each day, a costumed storyteller (or three) appears in each pavilion to describe the holiday traditions of that country. Most (if not all) of them are actors rather than actual citizens of that country but it's still interesting to listen to them.

Since we did the Yuletide Fantasy tour this year, it was especially interesting to hear about the holiday traditions, and to see how our holiday traditions in the U.S. are descended from those in older countries. When it comes to holiday traditions, the U.S. hasn't been very original. :-)

I'm going to go clockwise around World Showcase, starting with Mexico, even though that's not the way I saw them on the three different days that I watched the storytellers. :-)

Los Tres Reyes Magos
Los Tres Reyes Magos
Los Tres Reyes Magos (Three Magical Kings) were the storytellers in Mexico - this is the only place that had more than one. Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthazar described Las Posadas - a nine night festival where "Mary" and "Joseph" seek lodging at different inns (posadas) only to be turned away until the final night.

The "holiday tradition" that we have inherited from Mexico is the use of the poinsettia flower, though it's called the "Flores de Noche Buena" (Flowers of the Holy Night) in Mexico.

According to the legend of the poinsettia, on Christmas Eve a poor beggar boy offered up a bouquet of leaves, all he had to give, to the Christ Child, and they miraculously turned into a mass of brilliant red blossoms. Feliz Navidad!

Julenissen
Julenissen
Norway's storyteller, Julenissen, is a gnome (nisse) who lives in the barn and protects the family farm. On Christmas Eve the family leaves a bowl of Christmas porridge in the barn for him. (Gnomes LOVE porridge.) The farm animals get special Christmas feed, and sheaves of grain, called a "julenek" are mounted on a pole to feed the hungry birds.

We haven't really inherited any holiday traditions from Norway which is too bad, because they have a *3 day* Christmas celebration! I think I prefer turkey and dressing to Christmas porridge, though. :-) God Jul! (Go Yule)

The Monkey King
The Monkey King
The Monkey King is China's storyteller. Surprisingly he doesn't talk about China's big new year celebration. Especially surprising since 2004 is the Year of the Monkey! His own story is quite interesting, though. He "acquired" a magic stick from the Dragon King which gave him incredible powers (the first superhero?) but got a bit full of himself and into mischief after that...so Buddha imprisoned him in a mountain. But a Buddhist monk asked for his release and the Monkey King redeemed himself in his journeys with the monk. No doubt they were engaged in monk-y business. :-) Gung Hay Fat Choy!

St. Nicholas
St. Nicholas
In Germany I saw St. Nicholas. On December 6, St Nicholas Eve, (which is his birthday), St. Nicholas comes to prepare children for the arrival of the Christkindl (Christ Child) on December 24. Of course he brings the usual - gifts to the good children and coal or ashes to the naughty. He leaves the gifts in their shoes. (Do children with bigger feet get more gifts?)

We've inherited several German traditions - the Christmas tree being probably the best known. But our Santa Claus shares some of his origins with St. Nicholas - after all, St. Nicholas is another of his names! Freuliche Weinachten! (FROH-lick-a VINE-awk-ten)

La Befana
La Befana
A witch (a *friendly* witch) named La Befana is the rather unlikely storyteller in Italy. She was an old woman sweeping her front steps when the Magi came by and asked for directions to Bethlehem - though they were following the star. The asked Befana to join them, but she "minds her own business" and refused to follow. She soon regretted that decision, but by then the star was gone, and since then she roams the world looking for the "Gesu bambino", and leaving gifts for the children on January 5 (eve of the Epiphany), just in case she's found the child.

The tradition of the Nativity scene comes from Italy - St. Francis of Assisi is credited with coming up with the idea. Buon Natale!

In the America pavilion all Santa does is pose for pictures...rather disappointing compared to the other storytellers! Though maybe because we've borrowed so many holiday traditions from elsewhere, he doesn't have anything to talk about? :-) Ho, ho, ho...Merry Christmas!

The Daruma Seller
The Daruma Seller
In Japan the Daruma seller describes how they celebrate the New Year rather than Christmas. The Daruma sellers sell these Daruma dolls, that are pretty roly-poly (but not ollie! :-) ) and even when dropped on their heads still end up right-side-up. The name "Daruma" comes from a Buddhist monk by that name - he meditated for 9 years and after sitting in one position for that long, his arms and legs shriveled up and fell off - hence the roly-poly quality of the doll and the proverb associated with it: "fall down seven times, get up eight".

The Daruma dolls have eyes without pupils, and by tradition at New Years you make a wish and paint a pupil in the Daruma's left eye. Then when your wish comes true, you paint in the other pupil. If it doesn't...you can try again the next year. :-) Akemashite Omedetou Gozaimasu! (Ah-kay-MASH-tay oh-meh-day-too go-zy-MAH-su)

In Morocco the Taarji (drummer) describes the Muslim holy season of Ramadan. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset and then feast at night. It is a time of reflection and gathering together with family and friends. Because the Islamic year follows a 12 month lunar calendar (with only about 354 days a year) the season of Ramadan varies - and sometimes falls during the summer months! In 2003 it began ~October 27 and ended ~November 24. Hmmm...maybe we wouldn't gain all of those holiday pounds if we feasted *and* fasted! :-)

Pere Noel
Pere Noel
Pere Noel greeted us in France. He is another robed, bearded, gift giver who brings presents (or coal) to children and leaves them in their shoes. He's skinny, though...he must not have a "Maman Noel" to fatten him up. :-)

In France after midnight mass people gather for a feast called Le Reveillon - hmmm...I hope after all that the French children don't try to wake their parents up at the crack of dawn to open gifts! :-) The French borrowed the idea of the "creche" (Nativity scene) from the Italians, though in their scenes they also include figures of local townspeople. The Buche de Noel (Yule log cake) comes to us from the French - though the American version of this seems to be fruitcake. Ick. :-) (Does anyone actually eat fruitcake???)

Pere Noel told us that the French government even gets into the holiday spirit - they pay the postage for letters to Pere Noel as long as a return address is included. Joyeaux Noel!

Father Christmas
Father Christmas
Father Christmas is the United Kingdom's storyteller. Yet another in the series of robed and bearded gift givers who bring presents or coal. :-) (I never did find out where the whole "giving-coal-to-naughty-children" thing started.) Though the idea of leaving presents in the stockings rather than shoes seems to have begun in the UK. Many of our Christmas traditions originated there, like Christmas carols (and caroling door-to-door - "we won't go until we get some!"), the custom of sending Christmas cards, and kissing under the mistletoe. There's also December 26th - Boxing Day, which is the day to box up and return all the gifts you don't like. Oh wait, that's just how *we* do it... :-) In the UK on Boxing Day they give boxes of food and gifts or money to tradespeople or servants/employees. Happy Christmas!

Last but not least is Canada's Papa Noel. He's a jolly, manly Santa, dressed in a red-checked flannel shirt, eh? And of course he gets all of his reindeer from Canada. :-) When you consider that Canada was originally settled by the British and the French, it's not surprising that their traditions combine the two - with a little bit of German and Inuit thrown in for good measure. They celebrate midnight mass and Le Reveillon, as well as Boxing Day, and on Christmas Eve the children are visited by Belsnickel (a rather mean character they got from the Germans) to make sure they are behaving, and threatened with the Naluyoks (some nasty Inuit creatures, though I don't know how that's spelled) if they are bad. Merry Christmas!

So that's my tale of the storytellers...if you're ever at Epcot during the holiday season I highly recommend that you try to visit at least a few of them. None of their presentations are very long - 5-10 minutes - and they can be very entertaining - especially the Monkey King and Julenissen.


Other Links

Laura and Lee's December Disney Vacation
Tigger's Christmas Carols
Holidaze with Tigger and Stitch
Back to Laura and Lee's Vacation page


This page has been viewed times.

Text and photographs copyright © 2003, 2004 by Laura Gilbreath. All rights reserved.

Laura Gilbreath lgil at lgil dot net
Last updated 2/1/04