The Candlelight Processional originated at Disneyland in 1958 when Walt Disney first held it to thank community partners for their support. With a full orchestra and a mass choir it celebrates the Christmas season with songs and passages from the Bible that tell the story of the birth of the Christ Child. A celebrity guest narrator reads the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke.
The event takes place in front of the Main Street train station, and begins with the orchestra playing as the choir, carrying candles, walks down Main Street to the risers in front of the train station. The choir is made up of guest choirs from churches, schools, and community groups, as well as the Disney cast choirs.
In recent years the Processional has been held on the first Saturday and Sunday of December, with two shows each evening. There is limited seating, and it’s reserved for community leaders, VIPs, and media, with some tickets also available to the participating choirs. Disneyland does not advertise it, but it is very popular with guests who are “in the know,” and people start staking out their spots very early in the day.
It’s really a very special event. I wish I could describe the power and the beauty of hearing all of those voices in the mass choir. I was an invited media guest, so I was one of the lucky people who had a seat, but I think that the music is so powerful that it is a moving experience to anyone on Main Street who hears it.
There are a few featured soloists, but most of the songs are performed by the choir as a whole. That’s one thing that I really prefer about Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional as opposed the the one at Epcot – I think the Epcot version puts too much emphasis on the Voices of Liberty who perform with the choir.
In addition to the choir and orchestra, performances by bell choirs and herald trumpets (that’s Lee’s favorite part) are included.
This year the guest Narrator was Chris Hemsworth, perhaps best known for his role as “Thor”. He has a great voice for this, and read the selections of scripture with appropriate gravitas.
I didn’t record the entire Processional, but this video includes excerpts from several of the songs, as well as some of Hemsworth’s narration.
This year the identity of the guest narrator was not publicly known until the day of the event. My personal opinion is that Disney kept it quiet to try to prevent even more people from trying to see the Processional. As it was the Disneyland parking lots were filled to capacity by late afternoon on both days, and Main Street was very difficult to navigate.
I understand why Disneyland only holds the Candlelight Processional one weekend a year and why they don’t publicize it. It really makes for all kinds of logistical headaches on Main Street. Because of the risers for the choir the “A Christmas Fantasy” parade has to be re-routed around Town Square, and after the second parade the middle of Main Street is kept clear of guests, making it hard to enter or exit the park. At one point in the afternoon the backstage passageways on either side of Main Street were in use to try to alleviate the congestion. The cast members tried very hard to keep the crowd contained and moving – I know it had to be a very difficult couple of days for them. The good news was that most guests seemed to know what they were in for – I didn’t see anyone who was really frustrated. Most people were patient and accepting of the situation.
I’m not going to try to offer any viewing tips – but I know there are other sites out there where you can find them if you’re interested in trying to see it next year.
In the future I would love to see the Disney Parks Blog live stream the Candlelight Processional as it does so many other holiday events, though I must admit it wouldn’t be the same as actually being there.
Disclaimer: I was an invited media guest to the Candlelight Processional. The opinions expressed are my own.