Why Thanksgiving At Disney Feels More Like Christmas: A Holiday Exploration

Why Thanksgiving At Disney Feels More Like Christmas: A Historical Exploration

Disney theme parks are known for their magical experiences and over-the-top holiday celebrations. One of the unique aspects of these celebrations is how the Thanksgiving holiday at Disney has almost completely taken on the festive spirit of Christmas. Let’s embark on a journey to understand why Thanksgiving at Disney feels more like Christmas.

The Early Years: Thanksgiving at Disney

1950s Disneyland (10)

In the early years of Disneyland, which opened its doors in 1955, Thanksgiving was celebrated with as much fanfare as other holidays. Traditional turkey dinners were served at park restaurants, and characters donned pilgrim hats. However, as the years passed, the focus began to shift towards the more commercially popular Christmas season.

Disney’s shift towards Christmas during the Thanksgiving period started gradually. It was driven by several factors, including visitor expectations, commercial interests, and the desire to extend the lucrative holiday season. Disney World, which opened in 1971, followed the trend set by Disneyland, beginning their Christmas festivities earlier and earlier each year.

Blending Of Thanksgiving & Christmas

Disney World Christmas Photo: Emily Murray

The blending of Thanksgiving and Christmas at Disney parks can be seen in the decorations, events, and food offerings. As soon as Halloween ends, Disney parks undergo a “holiday switch,” transforming into a winter wonderland overnight. While turkey meals are still offered, the parks’ overall ambiance leans more towards Christmas, with towering Christmas trees, twinkling lights, and yuletide parades.

Why Thanksgiving At Disney Feels More Like Christmas

The blend of Thanksgiving and Christmas works well for Disney parks for a few reasons:

  • Many families visit Disney during the Thanksgiving break. Even though Thanksgiving week is less crowded than Christmas, many guests do take this time to visit, making it an opportune time for Disney to kick-start the Christmas festivities.
  • The blending of Thanksgiving and Christmas also allows Disney to maximize its Christmas merchandising. It’s not uncommon for Christmas-themed Disney merchandise to start being released as early as September, and extending the Christmas festivities allows for more sales of these items during the extended holiday season.
  • Lastly, the early start to Christmas creates a magical holiday experience that lasts longer and reaches more visitors. An early Christmas start reaches more international visitors who may not celebrate Thanksgiving but recognize and appreciate the universal appeal of the Christmas season. This inclusive approach broadens Disney’s reach, ensuring that the magic of the holidays is experienced by as many guests as possible, regardless of their cultural or geographical backgrounds.


While Thanksgiving at Disney may feel more like Christmas, this blend of the holidays is part of what makes the Disney holiday experience unique. This ultimately brings the celebration of Christmas cheer to many more people each year than the folks who can visit in the month of December alone. I’m sure if you were to ask your childhood self, you would have traded in your turkey dinner for an extended Christmas celebration!

So, if you’re ever planning a trip to Disney over your Thanksgiving break, be prepared for a hearty dose of Christmas cheer!

Written by

Rachel Van Norman

Contributing Writer

Rachel fell deeply in love with all things Disney as a little girl. Now as a wife and a mother herself, she shares this Disney obsession with her son and everyone around her. From her love of princesses to eating all the Disney food, Rachel spends her time radiating Disney magic and keeping everyone up to date on Disney news.

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