EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays features Christmas entertainment around World Showcase, running November 24 until December 30, 2023 at Walt Disney World. This event guide offers tips for Candlelight Processional, Santas, and other Storytellers during this seasonal celebration. (Updated November 8, 2023.)
Of course, one thing that would never go missing from an EPCOT festival is the food. Starting only a week after EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival ends, many of the food booths from that event are recycled for Festival of the Holidays, albeit with new menus. That’ll be doubly true in 2023, as 4 booths are for Disney100, and will be identical during both.
Consequently, it’s easy to view this seasonal event as an extension of the popular fall Food & Wine event at EPCOT, simply rebranded for Christmas. Some Walt Disney World fans joke that the other seasonal events are all “EPCOT Food & Wine Festival Lite.” They’re not wrong. However, they’re also not totally right…
The EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays is about so much more than eating, and if you focus solely on the food, you’re missing the heart of the event. There is a ton to enjoy during the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays–with or without food.
Let’s take a look at how EPCOT will be celebrating Christmas 2023…
Candlelight Processional — A retelling of the Christmas story with a celebrity narrator, mass choir performing seasonal melodies, and a 50-piece live orchestra. The 2023 Candlelight Processional will run nightly from the day after Thanksgiving through December 30 (in which case, it’d kick off the night before the rest of the event), with performances at at 5:00, 6:45, and 8:00 p.m.
This year has the best narrator lineup we’ve seen since we’ve been attending Candlelight Processional EPCOT, roughly 15 years ago. There’s something for everyone here, with big-names like Eva Longoria, Sterling K. Brown, Brendan Fraser, John Stamos (our favorite narrator), Neil Patrick Harris, Joey McIntyre, and Jordan Fisher. You can find the celebrity narrators for each night in November and December 2023 by clicking here.
One tip for Candlelight Processional at EPCOT is to book a dinner package if you’re visiting when one of the popular narrators is in town. They’re not too much of a premium if you were already planning on eating a table service meal, and will save you tons of time. We were there for the second night of Neil Patrick Harris’ run a couple of years ago, and we saw people waiting in line FOUR HOURS before the show. (For more info on Candlelight Processional, click here.)
Special Beacons of Magic on Spaceship Earth – The Beacons of Magic take the already awe-inspiring icon of EPCOT and make it even more breathtaking. The light display elevates the grandiosity of Spaceship Earth, making the front entrance of EPCOT a place where you’ll want to linger and soak up the ambiance.
This is especially true during the various festivals, when there are additional seasonal Beacons of Magic shows that are added to the rotation. For the 2023 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays, Walt Disney World has announced that a new Beacons of Magic show featuring the brand-new song, “I’m a Star” from Wish will debut on November 22, 2023. That’s the same day that the new movie is in theaters (Asha from Wish has already started meeting at EPCOT and will continue through Festival of the Holidays). In addition to this, it’s expected that the special Festival of the Holidays Beacons of Magic show will return.
Luminous The Symphony of Us– This technically is not part of the 2023 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays, but it does debut right after the event kicks off. If you’re planning for the festival, you need to be accounting for this.
Luminous The Symphony of Us is the new nighttime spectacular that will feature dazzling fireworks, fountains, lights and music to connect us all through commonalities of the heart. Luminous shines a light on how each of our unique melodies comes together to form a great symphony – the symphony of us. New music, along with evocative selections from the Disney songbook, come together to remind us that we are more alike than we are different.
Olaf’s Holiday Traditions Expedition Scavenger Hunt – Naturally, there’s a paid scavenger hunt, as is the case with other festivals at EPCOT. For the holidays, it’s Holiday Traditions Expedition Scavenger Hunt, which is akin to the Figment and Ratatouille ones during other events.
Just purchase your map and stickers from select festival merchandise locations and seek out the “tradition” that Olaf has found in each pavilion. Whether or not you complete the quest, you can redeem your map at Creations Shop, Disney Traders or World Traveler at International Gateway for a special festival holiday keepsake.
Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights – During EPCOT’s Festival of the Holidays, ride Living with the Land after sundown for a special, sparkling boat tour. Enjoy a peaceful cruise and view twinkling holiday light displays throughout the greenhouses.
We absolutely love Living with the Land. It’s one of the Walt Disney World attractions we do the most. We also absolutely love Christmas lights. Put those two things together, and we are squarely the target audience for Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights. Unsurprisingly, we absolutely love this overlay. I could go on and on about this, gushing about the calming atmosphere, thoroughness, and understated simplicity of it all. Suffice to say, do not miss Living with the Land: Merry and Bright Nights!!!
Holiday Kitchens – These are the food booths located mostly around World Showcase Lagoon, with a few closer to the front of the park. We have standalone coverage of the culinary component of the 2023 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays, but here’s an overview of the booths:
American Holiday Table (American Adventure Pavilion) – Enjoy a savory salute to the season—with traditional dishes reminiscent of grandma’s cooking.
Bavaria Holiday Kitchen (Germany Pavilion) – Willkommen! Help yourself to heartwarming holiday cuisine and German beverages.
Bubbles & Brine (near Port of Entry) – Indulge in succulent seafood that pairs beautifully with Champagne.
Char & Chop (near Disney Traders) – Stop by this butchery-inspired holiday kitchen for gourmet meats.
Holiday Hearth Desserts (The Odyssey Pavilion) – Cozy up with sweet treats, hot cocoa, blissful brews and more.
Holiday Sweets & Treats (near Port of Entry) – Rock around the Christmas tree with cookies, hot cocoa and specialty sips sure to top the “nice” list.
L’Chaim! Holiday Kitchen (between the Morocco and France Pavilions) – Propose a toast to life as you enjoy classic deli noshes with a side of New York flair.
Las Posadas Holiday Kitchen (Mexico Pavilion) – Feliz Navidad! Take your taste buds south of the border to celebrate the season.
Le Marché de Noël Holiday Kitchen (France Pavilion) – Feast on très magnifique fare. Plus, refresh your spirit with specialty cocktails.
Nochebuena Cucina (near Test Track) – Spice up your holiday with delicious dishes packed with bold Latin flavors.
Shanghai Holiday Kitchen (China Pavilion) – Have yourself a merry little meal, with popular Chinese plates and potables.
Shi Wasu Holiday Kitchen (Japan Pavilion) – Please your palate with festive dishes and drinks from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Swirled Showcase (near Port of Entry) – Cool off with whimsical frozen treats and chilled beverages.
Tangierine Café: Flavors of the Medina (Morocco Pavilion) – Embark on a culinary adventure to Morocco—featuring grilled kebabs, hard cider and more.
Tuscany Holiday Kitchen (Italy Pavilion) – Mangiare! Savor a seasonal take on some of the world’s best-loved food and beverages.
Wine & Wedge (near Disney Traders) – Snack on artisanal cheeses and accoutrements—which pair well with wine, port and more.
Yukon Holiday Kitchen (Canada Pavilion) – Jingle your bells with delightful dishes and libations from the Great White North.
Holiday Storytellers— These international storytellers share winter traditions from their native countries and (in a few cases) religions. In the European countries, these are mostly versions of Santa Claus. In addition to the Santas, representatives at the American Adventure describe the celebrations of Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. In other countries, different traditions are recounted, usually with an emphasis on entertaining performances.
Here’s the full lineup of Holiday Storytellers for the 2023 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays, along with a brief description and details about each:
Mexico Pavilion – Las Posadas Celebration (Sunday through Thursday) – ¡Feliz Navidad! Join the fun and pageantry of Las Posadas with dancers, piñatas and the music of Mariachi Cobre.
Norway Pavilion – A Mischievous Magical Barn Santa – Celebrate the season with laughter as a mischievous Barn Santa visits Sigrid, an unsuspecting Christmas storyteller.
China Pavilion – Chinese Lion Dancer – Catch a glimpse of a colorful performance that brings good fortune and happiness in the Lunar New Year.
Italy Pavilion – La Befana – Come hear the tale of La Befana, the kindhearted witch who visits sleeping young children on the Eve of the Epiphany.
Japan Pavilion – Daruma Storyteller – Hear the fascinating story of the Daruma doll and the Japanese customs of the New Year!
Between the Morocco and France Pavilions – Hanukkah Storyteller – Witness a storyteller recount traveling abroad to explore the diverse music and traditions of Hanukkah around the world.
France Pavilion – Pere Noel – Visit with Père Noël and rediscover the magic of Christmas through the letter of a delightful child.
United Kingdom Pavilion – Father Christmas – Join Father Christmas as he rings in the season, sharing the traditions of the United Kingdom with good cheer.
Canada Pavilion – Canadian Holiday Voyageurs – Explore holiday customs from the various regions of Canada on a musical tour of the Great White North with the Canadian Holiday Voyageurs.
The Odyssey Pavilion – Santa Greeting – (Daily through December 24, 2023) Stop by for a photo with jolly Santa Claus—also known as St. Nick, Père Noël and Father Christmas around the world!
All appear daily (albeit for a limited set of hours–usually midday) unless specified otherwise.
The Storytellers can be hit or miss, and whether you want to spend the time seeing listening to their stories will depend upon your personal preferences. If you are on the fence, we’d recommend starting your tour around the World Showcase in Mexico and continuing to Norway second as the most engaging Storytellers are near the beginning of the tour that way. If you don’t enjoy those countries’ Storytellers, chances are that you won’t enjoy any of the rest. (For our Holiday Storytellers at EPCOT Tips, click here.)
Now, here’s how we’d approach a day at the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays…
EPCOT Festival of the Holidays Strategy & Tips
With all of that out of the way, our planning recommendation for the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays is pretty simple. We’d recommend rope-dropping the park or taking advantage of Early Entry if you’re eligible, and doing as many rides as possible before 11 am.
Around then, bounce to World Showcase, and grab the Turkey Poutine from Refreshment Port before continuing on with your schedule of Holiday Storytellers. In between these performances, make some time to grab snacks at the various Holiday Kitchens, and schedule time for a few attractions, as well.
Our rationale for doing actual attractions in addition to the Holiday Storytellers is that all of the Storytellers perform outside, with zero shade. Moreover, all of the lines for the Holiday Kitchen are outdoors, in unshaded areas. Ditto the tables for the food. Are you spotting a trend yet?
Even on a November or December afternoon, it can be in the 80s at Walt Disney World. If you do happen to get lucky with more favorable temperatures, you still have to deal with that Florida sunshine. The weather this time of year is delightful, but the potential for getting sunburnt doesn’t go away just because the temperature drops below 70 degrees.
The good news is that sunset occurs around 5 p.m. this time of year, so you can save some of your Holiday Storyteller and snacking experiences until around that time (note that some Storytellers end early, so make note of show schedules in advance).
The Holiday Kitchens all close with the park, so you can wait until the last minute before grabbing the last of your snacks by that cut-off point. We’d recommend grabbing a surplus of items and then staking out a viewing spot for the fireworks. If Luminous has debuted by the time you visit for the 2023 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays, you’ll definitely want to camp out earlier for that.
Alternatively, you might opt for the last showing of Candlelight Processional (that’s the one we’d recommend attending) at 8:15 p.m., in which case you’ll want to line up before 8 p.m. to watch that–or just hang out in the American Adventure courtyard and enjoy the performances from afar.
It is possible to do the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays entertainment in addition to regular rides. However, as we note in our 1-Day EPCOT Ideal Day Plan, the park is already pretty much a 2-day park, and doing the above as your second day in the park just makes things so much easier, and will allow you to have a much slower pace.
That’s what we recommend, and usually when we visit EPCOT around Christmas-time, it’s primarily to enjoy the holiday offerings. We’ll also do some regular rides and shows if we have time, but there are so many seasonal offerings that they can easily take up the whole day (or, at least the entire afternoon and evening).
As we noted earlier in the post, our separate Food Guide to the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays covers everything you need to know about what to eat (and what not to eat) at this event. Accordingly, all we’re going to cover here menus and our rankings of the various Holiday Kitchens (ordered from best to worst):
You might notice this list isn’t comprehensive, which is because several of the new-for-2023 booths are part of the Disney100 celebration, which wasn’t happening in previous years. We expect the food at those to be fantastic based on the menus!
Don’t feel bad about gorging yourself at these booths. You’ll be learning about holiday culinary customs in other cultures as you graze, so the argument could be made that you’re doing all this eating to learn. The way we see it, we pretty much have to try all of these snacks. It is our responsibility as citizens of the world. 😉
The good news is that there are lulls between Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve–not every day in that stretch is insanely busy. The bad news is that EPCOT tends to have worse “feels like” crowds this time of year since its Christmas festivities start later and it’s the popular park for fans. This means that even if you choose to visit on a random weekday in early to mid-December, it’ll still feel pretty bad.
That’s true in normal years. In all likelihood, Christmas 2023 will be even worse. As noted above, EPCOT is the home to the Disney100 celebration, and that culminates in December with the debut of Luminous The Symphony of Us as well as the completion of the EPCOT overhaul and debut of World Celebration. These two things will likely draw a lot of locals to the park, and make this holiday season even busier. So pack your patience if you’re visiting for the 2023 EPCOT Festival of the Holidays. The good news is that the event itself and all of the new additions will be well worth it!
Do you have any favorite things from EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays/Holidays Around the World? Which Holiday Storyteller is your favorite? Do you enjoy a particular Candlelight Processional narrator? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so please share your thoughts in the comments!