Disney as Christmas Americana

mickey ornament

What is it about Disney and Christmas? The two just seem to go together. I was at the post office last week, and while waiting in line I noticed that I could purchase two holiday-designed wrapping paper sets. One of them featured Disney characters. I can’t think of any other brand for which it wouldn’t seem weird to see its characters plastered all over Christmas-themed items.

Yet the more I think about it, the more instances I recall of Disney and Christmas intersecting. For years we had Disney ornaments on our tree; some of them were actually thematically-appropriate, with Goofy peeking through a wreath, for example. But others were just random, plush-toy versions of Cinderella’s faithful mice friends with hooks for hanging them on the tree sticking out of the tops of their heads. Cartoon mice ought to be strange tree ornaments, and yet they never seemed so.

Another example would be the Disney Christmas Day parade; turn on the television on Thanksgiving and although many stations will be airing the parade in New York, depending on where you live you might receive a different broadcast (we just got the one in Philly at my home growing up). But there’s only one famous parade I can think of for Christmas Day, and that’s Disney’s.

The strange thing about all of this is that Disney doesn’t really have a famous Christmas movie. In fact, Disney doesn’t even own any of the most popular Christmas specials – stop-motion features of the Rudolph or Frosty the Snowman ilk, the Grinch, Charlie Brown – that air on television every year. Sure, the company frequently puts out quality Christmas specials, but for one reason or another none of them have seemed to attain status as Christmas classics.

In fact, I’m hard-pressed to think of any feature-length holiday-themed Disney movies. I’m sure if I looked it up I’d find more, but the point of the exercise is to ruminate on automatic associations and I’m finding few. The direct-to-DVD “Beauty and the Beast” sequel was set during Christmas (and as the Prince was still in his beastly form, I think it was also set during the movie), but I haven’t heard good things about it and I’ve never seen it.

I know I’m omitting the obvious: “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” But no matter how much I love that film I don’t see it becoming a Disney Christmas classic. It’s just too frightening for younger children to be family-friendly, and although some popular holiday tales can get away with not appealing to children (“A Christmas Carol,” for example), people expect Disney movies to.

What’s interesting about Nightmare, however, is that it contains one of my all-time favorite Christmas songs: “What’s This?” Jack Skellington’s utter delight, reflected in a leaping score, at discovering for the first time all the elements of Christmas – decorations, baked goods, good cheer, and family togetherness – is infectious and a great way of getting into the season.

I guess Disney’s just such an ingrained part of Americana now that it seems natural for images relating to the company’s brand to be prevalent during Christmas. What I find interesting is that aside from a few Disney Princess-themed Christmas items, the only characters we ever see bedecked for the holidays are the classics: Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Goofy, Donald, and Daisy. That goes back to my Americana idea: these are the definitive Disney characters, so these are the ones that it makes sense to see dressed up for the holidays.

I might not be able to pinpoint exactly why it seems so natural for Disney characters to be around during the holidays, but it seems like at least for now they’re here to stay.

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*(This image by yensid1998 is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 License.)