Sunday, December 10, 2017

A Musical History of Christmas Parades in Disneyland

By Chris Lyndon

Disneyland has had a long tradition of presenting Christmas parades and this magical tradition goes back to the park's very beginnings. Join us today as we take a look back at the musical history of Christmas Parades in Disneyland...

In late November of 1955, a brand new attraction opened in Fantasyland only four months after Disneyland itself had opened. It was an attraction that Walt Disney wanted to be a part of his park because it held so much boyhood nostalgia for him personally, a full-scale three-ring circus. The circus was mostly a traditional presentation but it also included musical numbers with the new Mouseketeers from the newly launched children's TV show "The Mickey Mouse Club" which had just premiered on ABC one month earlier. The circus also ended with a Christmas segment since it was during the month of December that it initially ran. Here is the actual program for the Mickey Mouse Club Circus...

On interesting thing I notice about this program is that many of the tracks from a 1956 Disneyland Record called "Disneyland Band Concert" match up to the scenes presented in this circus. Therefore I deduce that some of the Disneyland Band musical arrangements featured on that 1956 album, which would have been recorded right around the time this circus was being presented, are in fact the same instrumentations used for the circus. Here is a sample of one of the songs from that album...

In addition to the circus itself, a daily parade was presented throughout December for promotion as the circus was an extra ticket price beyond normal park admission and regular attraction coupons. The parade was presented in much the same way a traditional circus parade was presented at the turn of the twentieth century, so Main Street USA served as the perfect backdrop for this event. At the end of the parade was a special float featuring Santa Claus himself. So this circus parade can be considered Disneyland's very first "Christmas" parade.

Unfortunately, the circus was not a success and after the holiday season it closed permanently, as did the daily circus parade. The following 1956 Christmas season was the one and only year in Disneyland history that no Christmas parade was presented.

In 1957 however, an all-new Christmas parade was presented that featured the people and cultures of many different nations around the world, and showcased how each of these cultures celebrates Christmas, or in some instances other holidays celebrated around the same time of year. This was called the "Christmas in Many Lands Parade" and would become an annual tradition lasting well into the mid 1960's. The participants in the parade were members of local and international civic organizations who were invited to participate in the event. Counties from Europe, Asia, South America and many other distant locales were all presented, with people in traditional national costumes carrying flags and banners, or performing native folk dances. The simple floats were either pulled by man-power or by horses. Here is a brochure from 1961...

Due to the logistics in putting on a parade of this nature, it could only be presented once or twice during the holiday season each year. However, Walt did use this same format for many other parades not presented during the holidays. For example, when the Matterhorn, Submarine Voyage and Monorail had their grand opening ceremonies in the summer of 1959, Walt featured an around the world segment in the special parade for this event that was very close to the same holiday version of the parade he presented in December. Again in 1966, when It's a Small World opened in Disneyland, Walt would use this same format for that opening day parade as well.

The yearly presentation of "Christmas in Many Lands" continued every December in the early 60's, but because it was only presented once or twice, Walt Disney decided to have a second parade that could run every day throughout the holidays. This began in 1960, and the parade was called "The Parade of Toys" This featured the many larger than life toys that had been used as movie props during the production of Walt Disney's live action musical fantasy "Babes in Toyland," although the film would not be released for another year. It also featured the famous Disneyland wooden soldiers which have become a staple of every Disneyland Christmas parade ever since.

Although the music for the Parade of Many Lands and the Parade of Toys was all played by live marching musicians, Disney did reenact both of these parades for the TV program called "Holiday Time in Disneyland" in 1962. Here is the audio from both of these parades as presented in the 1962 episode of The Wonderful World of Color...

1964 would be the final year of both the Parade of Toys and The Parade of Many Lands. The following holiday season Walt Disney presented a groundbreaking parade that would change the face of all Disney park parades from that time forward called "Fantasy on Parade. This 1965 parade was staged more like a full-scale Broadway production and featured elaborate floats and very elaborate costumes that were a great step forward in character costume design. Although this was considered a Christmas parade, the majority of the parade was not specifically themed to the holiday season.

There were several segments that featured scenes from classic Walt Disney films, including Snow White, Pinocchio, Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Fantasia, Mary Poppins, Winnie the Pooh, and many others. Also in addition to the movie based scenes, there was some non movie specific scenes including a butterfly dance, a dog catcher scene with Pluto, and old jalopy with Goofy and Minnie, and a wacky barnyard scene set to a rock 'n' roll beat with some rather crazy looking chickens.

After the extensive non-Christmas section of the parade concluded, the parade ended with a Christmas specific segment. This included dancing Christmas trees, snowmen, the parade of the wooden soldiers and the fondly remembered silly tongue wagging reindeer. And of course the final float was Santa on his toy filled sleigh. Like the previous parades, most of the music from the original years of Fantasy on Parade was performed live. However, once again the parade was documented for TV and music was created for its televised version. Here is the complete audio of the parade segment from the 1966 Wonderful World of Color episode, "Disneyland Around the Seasons."

The Fantasy on Parade ran for many years. During the course of its run many of the film segments were changed to present the newest Disney films. Over time, Jungle Book, Herbie the Love Bug, The Aristocrats, Robin Hood, and The Rescuers were all added. The parade was such a success and so popular that it evolved into a national and later an international tour called "Disney on Parade." This traveling arena show used many elements originally designed for the Disneyland's Fantasy on Parade and transfixed it into a musical stage show review. It ran from 1969 until the mid 70's. At that point it evolved even further and became an ice skating show known as "Disney on Ice," which continues to tour the United States to this day.

By the 1970's Disneyland began shifting from using live music in its parades to using a prerecorded soundtrack. Here is an amazing piece of audio for you to enjoy. It is the entire soundtrack from the 1973 presentation of Fantasy on Parade. This year marked the 50th anniversary of Walt Disney Productions, so the parade led off with a special anniversary tribute. The song used was written by the Sherman Brothers and originally was used for Disneyland's 10th anniversary in 1965. For the company's 50th, new lyrics were written to this catchy melody.

The original run of Fantasy on Parade ended in 1976. The following year a new Christmas parade premiered. This was called "The Very Merry Christmas Parade." The parade included updated floats, new character costumes and a new soundtrack, but the overall format of the parade was very close to its predecessor. The parade opened with a series of non-holiday scenes based on Disney film classics, then concluded with an elaborate Christmas segment.

The original run of the Very Merry Christmas Parade only lasted until 1979. In 1980, as part of Disneyland's 25th anniversary, it was decided to bring back the classic Fantasy on Parade that year. The parade was not much different from the Very Merry Christmas parade, but some of the old scenes from Fantasy on Parade, including the dog catcher and Herbie the Love Bug, returned to the show. The return of Fantasy on Parade proved so popular with guests that it ran for another five years, finally retiring permanently after the 1986 holiday season.

In 1987 the name of the parade was changed back to the "Very Merry Christmas Parade." This version ran until 1993. Again, the parade opened with a series of scenes based on Disney films, then concluded with a Christmas segment. Over time new scenes were added to reflect the current film releases from the Disney studio. Here is the audio from the final 1993 season of the Very Merry Christmas Parade...

In 1994 a new Christmas parade premiered at Disneyland, and this is the same parade that is still being presented to this day. Unlike the previous parades, the theme of "A Christmas Fantasy Parade" is centered around the holiday season from start to finish. The parade opens with the famous wooden soldiers that first appeared in the 1960 Parade of Toys. The sections that follow include Santa's mail room, a winter wonderland, a Christmas royal ball, and gingerbread bakery, a toy factory, and the final Santa Claus scene. Throughout the parade many Disney characters are featured within these segments. The placement of these characters has shifted over time and new characters have been added. For many years Mickey and Minnie were featured on a float in the winter wonderland scene where they glided around a mobile ice rink. This has since been replaced by a new "Frozen" float. For a time, Goofy and his son Max were positioned on the gingerbread house float. These days Pluto has taken over for Max. Roger Rabbit used to lead off the toy factory segment. Today that is an honor reserved for Cowboy Woody from Pixar's "Toy Story."

A Christmas Fantasy Parade is currently running for its 23rd year in a row. This parade has become a true Disneyland staple, and is truly one of the most magical events presented at Disneyland throughout the entire year. The true spirit of the season is felt by all who witness this amazing parade which continues a 63 year tradition of Christmas parades at the Happiest Place on Earth. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to all!


Chris Lyndon grew up in Southern California, near Disneyland. He formed a lifelong fascination with all things Disney from a very early age, especially Disney music, and has studied the history of the Walt Disney organization for decades. His very first summer job was at Disneyland at age 16, and he also worked at the Florida parks during his college years, as part of the Walt Disney World College Internship Program. His lifelong passion for Disney music has evolved into his website, All manner of Disney music can be enjoyed there including the Disney Song of the Day, but the main focus is audio from the original Disneyland theme park in a collection he calls the "Disneyland Magical Audio Tour," with over 1200 audio tracks, full color imagery and historical information for every track posted. Chris also provided archival Disneyland audio for the September 2015 PBS Walt Disney American Experience documentary. In 2014 he joined the Sideshow Sound Theatre podcast group as a co-host on the MouseMusic podcast, and in December 2015 he began his own weekly podcast covering all things Disney, called Jiminy Crickets! He is now also co-host of Magical Day Radio program, where he interviews notable people within the Disney community.

You can find all of Chris's articles here.

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