For me Working Christmas morning at Disneyland Paris was always special. It was a time for the giving and receiving of gifts, making Disney dreams come true, natural disasters and being suspected of terrorism.
There are few more magical times for many of us than Christmas Morning. Traditionally it is a time for the family to gather around the tree and share gifts but as a Disney Cast Member, working for a 365 day company working on Christmas morning can be a mixed blessing. To be away from our families, working during the Holidays can be hard especially on December 25th but working, making the magic on this special day can often be just as special. With the whole resort decorated with hundreds of holly wreathes, miles of evergreen garlands, and countless fairy lights and baubles all with the Disney touch and sprinkle of pixie dust Disney at Christmas is beautiful.
All through the 1990’s I worked every Christmas morning. In France the “Fete de Noel” is celebrated in earnest late into the evening of December 24th so all my French colleagues wanted to be at the heart of their families the morning after. I was young free, with no family at hand, no children depending on me to be there so I always had my name down to work the opening shift on the 25th and I loved it!
Christmas morning 1993 and 1994 found me sat in the cab of the Steam Train on Main St station. I was waiting for the manager of ticketing and a family picked from those waiting to enter the park. The children of the family would be prompted to wave to the train engineers at opening time, in turn they would blow the train whistle and open the park. On Christmas morning it would be all the more special because as their fellow Guests rushed in, the ‘opening’ family would be led to the Christmas tree in town square to find the one package that wasn’t a prop, a gift for them. There was a simple kind of magic in the air; it made the 5am wake up call worth it. Years later when my career at Disney moved me around the resort I got to be the guy who chose the family and waved at the train driver on Christmas morning.
Many Christmas’ later, working in Guest Relations at City Hall the yuletide feeling was always strong. I fondly remember a child coming to ask if we could get a message to Santa Claus to say thank you for the wonderful gifts they had found in the hotel room that morning, a phone call to Santa later and the big guy in the red suit gave an extra big smile and wave to the children outside City Hall for the parade that day – the simple pleasures in life are the best.
Working for the team that Guests bring their problems to – even over the holidays is a real pleasure and a blessing too. To have a family come to you with a problem in June, one of those something and nothing issues, a typo made by a tour operator that caused no end of issues but could easily be remedied with two phone calls to the right people. A ruined vacation to a great family trip in five minutes. Then to have the same family to come back six months later, not only remember you but bring a Christmas hamper for the team – the gift not withstanding, Guests like that make the job worth doing!
Guests like that make the job worth doing!
Christmas at Disney though was not without its challenges, early in the morning of December 26, 1999 Disneyland Paris had an unpleasant visitor. Lothar was a violent extratropical cyclone sweeping across Central Europe that night, causing major damage in France, Germany, and Switzerland. Wind speeds reached around 206kph (130mph) by the time Lothar hit the resort. For the first and only time to date Disneyland Paris had to close its gates to Guests that morning.
The resort was left in a real mess, not only were the Christmas decorations ruined, even the cast iron street furniture had been blown around. Trees were snapped in two and the public transport system was brought to a stand still – meaning very few Cast Members could get in to help with the clear up. It was a tribute to those Cast Members could who got to work that day that the park reopened the next morning and that four days later the park hosted its huge Millennium night party as planned.
Outside of work back at the Disney Cast Member housing we’d throw our own party on the evening of the 25th and invite all our friends, who like us were all far from their families and homes. To accommodate everyone we’d take the internal doors out of the flat, remove the handles and use them to extend the diner table. Friends could be seen coming from across the ‘La Boiserie’ complex carrying their dining chairs and a bottle of Christmas cheer.
Normally I’d drive over to the UK and get all the ingredients for the traditional roast turkey diner with all the trimmings and the festive rich, fruited Christmas Pudding. One year I flew home in late December for a few days to see my family and I bought a large, catering size ‘Mrs Peak’s’ Christmas pudding for the party.
I checked in, put my bags on the baggage into the x-ray machine and walked through the metal detector. It was then I met the two large, armed Police officers at the baggage check desk. It was then that I found out my foil wrapped pudding looked remarkably like explosives on the airport security equipment. Just to say, it is amazing how much goodwill can be generated by simply telling people you are a Disney Cast Member! That and not carrying C4.
Of all the things I miss about not being a Disney Cast Member I think I miss Christmas in the parks most. I know I write too much about making the Magic, the Disney dream and all the other sickly, saccharin sweet stuff but working over the Holidays was a very special part of my time with the Mouse.