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A Rare Look at Disneyland and Its Christmases Past

Ever since its inaugural year, it seemed natural to celebrate the festivities of the holidays at Disneyland, and so on November 24, 1955—Thanksgiving—Disneyland showcased its first holiday parade. Pictured above is one of the original character costumes for Mickey Mouse, which was borrowed from the Ice Capades and seen at Disneyland during the first year of the park. The Ice Capades featured a Disney segment in their shows in the 1950s, and Disney had not unveiled its own live cast of the animated characters yet.

The parade also started another tradition, announcing that the circus is in town, because this day also was the premiere of the short-lived Mickey Mouse Club Circus in Disneyland. The procession was led by Walt Disney and Fess Parker—donning his Davy Crockett garb—and also featured high school marching bands and various traditional holiday elements, such as the "wise men" and live animals, including camels, a llama, and even an ostrich. Today, Christmas parades continue making spirits bright during the holiday season at Disney parks around the world.

While the first Candlelight Ceremony was officially held on December 21, 1958, the idea of bringing choirs from all over Southern California together at Disneyland for the holiday season started with the park's first Christmas. In 1955, choirs were invited to perform daily in the Main Street, U.S.A. bandstand, which was re-christened the "Christmas Bowl" for the season. The following year, under Dr. Charles C. Hirt of the University of Southern California, singers from eight visiting choirs performed as a group on the station steps, accompanied by the Disneyland Band. In 1957, the event grew larger as choirs followed the Christmas in Many Lands Parade from Sleeping Beauty Castle into the Plaza. And the first evening Candlelight Ceremony was in 1958 with 16 choirs that performed at the base of Sleeping Beauty Castle.

Christmases past and present collided at Disneyland in December 1958 when a Sputnik-era spaceman wandered out of Tomorrowland—leaving the nifty space-age Rocket to the Moon attraction behind—to join a trio of Dickensian-era Disneyland carolers preparing for the "Christmas in Many Lands" festival. This charming photo hints at the soaring spectacle that the Anaheim park had in store for the Yuletide celebration. The highlight, the Parade of All Nations, was a Christmas spectacular more than 3,500 Cast Members strong, and it included foreign dance groups, candlelight processions, massed choirs—and these four caroling travelers from different worlds.

On Sunday, December 17, 1961, Disneyland unveiled its biggest holiday pageant yet, one that would extend through the rest of the year. Heralded as an "entire colorful kaleidoscope of Disneyland's holiday season activities," the festivities included two parades—one was the twice-daily Parade of the Toys—as well as daily performances by the Disneyland Carolers and a brand-new attraction on Main Street, U.S.A.: the Babes in Toyland Exhibit. Sets from the just-released movie were on display at the Opera House.

Oh, and there was another gem for all to see—the 24-foot Christmas Star (pictured here in preparation for its first appearance).

Sitting atop the 14-story-high Matterhorn mountain, the star shone every evening as part of the gala. For years, it would be a regular at holiday time. The last photo on record of the star gracing the classic Disneyland attraction is from December 1978.