Imagine Walt Disney, sitting in his apartment on Main Street USA…seeing the lights and decorations lighting up Disneyland and watching the Candlelight Processional unfold before him with this very unique view. This is a Christmas story that created a moment that for many has become a memory.
Walt Disney thought that Disneyland should have some Christmas Carolers…and from that idea, a tradition was born. In December 1958, the first evening Candlelight Processional was held at Disneyland, with singers from sixteen choirs moving down Main Street to the Plaza where they performed a full concert with the Dickens carolers singing from the Sleeping Beauty Castle balcony above.
This holiday tradition has continued to grow and is now a part of not only Disney tradition but also Disney history. Walt is reported to have enjoyed the festivities often from his office/apartment in Disneyland. This tradition would also become a part of the legacy of Walt himself in the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida.
As always, Disney was looking to plus and improve the experience. Celebrity narrators were added to the mix in 1961, Actor Dennis Morgan was the first one. He performed that role 1961-1964 and again in 1966. Dick Van Dyke, to help promote Mary Poppins, was the narrator in 1965.
Through the years, other narrators included some of Hollywood’s biggest stars including Cary Grant (who narrated at five of the ceremonies including one in Florida), Rock Hudson (who took part six times in the Florida ceremony and three times in California), John Wayne, Buddy Ebsen, Howard Keel (1985 and 1986 in Florida and 1987 in Disneyland), John Forsythe, James Earl Jones, Pat Boone (who sang “Go Tell It On the Mountain” as part of his narration) and others.
Disney historian, Jim Korkis records that ,Cary Grant and Rock Hudson both wanted to narrate the ceremony again and again and they did it for free.
On one occasion, stormy rain clouds threatened the ceremony in 1970 as Charlton Heston was scheduled to be the narrator.
Again, in a report from Korkis, Heston is supposed to have said, ‘If I can part the Red Sea, then I can keep it from raining!’” And as you might have guessed, it did not rain on the ceremony that year.
In 1971, John Wayne was suffering from pneumonia and was coughing horribly on the night he was supposed to narrate. The Duke showed up anyway, surprising everyone involved. When he was asked what he was doing there, in typical John Wayne style and swagger, he replied, ‘I’m not going to let all those kids down.’” He did it and created another moment that has become a Christmas memory.
There is something very special about the sights, sounds, and stories of Christmas. You begin to realize that Christmas connects us all to the amazing gift of a baby in a manger many years ago. Being able to tell that story and hear that story afresh and new each year somehow realigns our lives, hearts, and attitudes…which is something that we all need from time to time.
It also adds a level of meaning and hope to Christmas that we can find nowhere else.
For Walt Disney it was a way to create another moment that for many would become a lasting memory. Christmas never ends when we learn how to do that. Embrace each moment during this Christmas season and create memories that last a lifetime. Christmas is a moment that changed all of human history… remember it and celebrate it once again this year.