VINTGE COLUMN: DISNEY DISPLAYS THE TRUE SPIRIT OF CHRISTMAS

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Dec. 26, 2008, column seems apropos during the season of the annual debate about a perceived ‘war on Christmas.'

A HEADLINE IN last Sunday's newspaper, in the Opinion section, caught my eye. It read "Schools avoiding Christmas carols," over a column about how some schools are eliminating from their Christmas programs songs that refer to the birth of Jesus.

The point of reference in this story was specifically schools but there's been much in the press recently about a variety of venues around the country excluding Jesus from Christmas celebrations.

Apparently the people who organize these programs are so afraid of being thought of as politically incorrect that they are removing all things Christian for fear of protests.

So when my wife and I flew to Florida a couple of weeks ago to visit our youngest son, and he took us to a musical Christmas program at Disney's Epcot Center, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

If schools and other institutions are nervous about referring to Jesus Christ at Christmas, what might happen at Disney World? After all, what entity is more image-conscious than Disney?

The program was in the evening, so we spent most of the day in the park, and as we wandered around, taking in the various exhibitions and going on rides, it was impossible not to notice all the Christmas paraphernalia, from a wide range of tall, elaborately decorated trees to people wearing Santa hats to holiday-oriented events specific to each country represented at Epcot: Germany, Japan, France, etc.

And everything — and I mean everything — was adorned with Mickey Mouse ears. Even the Santa hats!

                  

Welcome to Christmas at the Mouse House.

Naturally, there were also many Christmas items for sale, all with the Disney stamp, from tree decorations to candies to a variety of toys and DVDs and collectibles.

There was also a huge gingerbread house — actually made of gingerbread, candies and graham crackers — with a woman inside dressed like Mother Goose. She was selling edible pieces of the house. (Now there's a unique way to avoid a second mortgage.)

If you have any doubts about how much Christmas has been commercialized, take a trip to Disney World.

So I began to wonder what this program might be like. Singing Mickeys? A chorus line of Rockettes in Santa-style outfits doing high kicks while actors in Donald Duck and Goofy costumes dance around, with all the songs sticking to the "Jingle Bells" catalog?

So imagine my surprise — my very pleasant surprise — when the repertoire proved to be both dignified and quite specifically about the Christ child.

In fact, on the night we were there, the fabulous Chita Rivera introduced it as a program of "scripture and song." Can't get much more specific than that.

     

The nightly "Candle Light Processional" at Epcot's American Gardens Theatre features a celebrity reading the familiar story directly from Luke in the New Testament and the choirs and orchestra were top-notch.

The same scriptures I used to read every Christmas Eve to my children when they were young. It took me back to that tradition and made the event all the more touching.

It was a celebration of Christmas for all the right reasons, and it was uplifting, joyous and — despite the commercial surroundings and the snowless 75-degree weather — it sounded just the right note to get us in the holiday mood.

And I couldn't help but think, if Disney can keep Christ in Christmas, why can't everyone else?