Yesterland “it’s a small world” Holiday
Inaugural Season — Winter 1997-98
 
Presented by Mattel

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, January 1998

It’s the 1997 holiday season at Yesterland.

As you approach the familiar building, you hear a familiar tune—but not the tune you expect to hear.

It’s “Jingle Bells”! So where is the maddeningly catchy “it’s a small world” song?


Just wait. You’ll hear both songs, as well as “Deck the Halls.”

The building looks different too, especially at night when 50 thousand colored bulbs outline the features of the façade.

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, January 1998

Façade at dusk, initial season (1997-1998) of “it’s a small world” Holiday

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, January 1998

Façade at night, initial season (1997-1998) of “it’s a small world” Holiday

Board your “small world” boat. There’s a white wreath on the bow. If all you expect are some Christmas lights draped over the existing sets, prepare to be delighted.

You’ll be overwhelmed by huge arches, holiday greetings in many languages, holiday props, colorful lights, and the finale featuring a massive, snowflake-covered Christmas tree.

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Werner Weiss, January 1998

“Peace on Earth” during the initial season (1997-1998)

Almost every scene now celebrates Christmas traditions, New Year’s celebrations, and other global winter holidays around the world.


Disneyland’s “it’s a small world” attraction didn’t change much from its opening in 1966 until 1997. The sponsor changed from Bank of America to Mattel to Siemens (Sylvania), with changes to signage. The façade was given a more colorful paint scheme, inspired by the Disneyland Paris version. (Since then, the façade at Disneyland reverted back to the original colors.) The classic soundtrack was tweaked. But it was essentially the same ride.

In October 1997, “it’s a small world” closed for more than typical annual maintenance. The Los Angeles Times ran an article about what to expect (“It’s a ‘World’ of Christmas; Theme park: Disneyland aims to boost holiday ticket sales with a Yuletide make-over of the popular ride, which will reopen Nov. 25,” by Jan Herman, October 11, 1997), which included these paragraphs:

For the first time since it opened 31 years ago, the park’s “it’s a small world” attraction will be altered extensively to celebrate the yuletide season, Disneyland officials announced Friday.

“Basically, we will be adding a Christmas overlay to the existing ride,” said Michael Maines, director of entertainment creative development.

The attraction will be closed for the alterations and general maintenance starting Sunday until the opening of the revamped version Nov. 25. It will remain through Jan. 4, Maines said.

Planned enhancements to the 12-minute ride, originally designed especially for small children, include choirs singing “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” instead of “it’s a small world” and exhibits from various countries illustrating traditional children’s games and crafts. Animal topiaries will be outfitted with Santa Claus hats and red bows. The 30-foot clock at the entrance to the ride will have a giant-sized Santa hat.

During Thanksgiving week of 1997—on November 27, to be precise—the attraction reopened as “it’s a small world” Holiday. Guests enjoyed an experience that was simultaneously familiar and brand new. Disneyland got high marks for skillfully weaving the holiday theme into the famous attraction.

The Holiday version was supposed to end January 4, 1998, along with Disneyland’s other holiday activities and decorations, to revert to its old self. Instead, its run was extended to January 25, 1998 due to its popularity.

“it’s a small world” Holiday became an annual tradition at Disneyland. Similar holiday overlays were added to Tokyo Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, and Hong Kong Disneyland. Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World keeps the traditional version all year.

The Covid-19 pandemic closed Disneyland Park completely for most of 2020. For the first time since it began, “it’s a small world” Holiday missed a holiday season.

The 2021 edition of “it’s a small world” Holiday was supposed to open on November 11 for the first of five sold-out “Disney Merriest Nites” after-hours events. By early the morning before, the overlay had been installed and the flume was being refilled. The day of the event, Disney revealed that the attraction had “experienced some flooding that affected machinery” and would be unable to open that evening.

With the ride not operating, the official Disneyland website atill invited guests to enjoy “it’s a small world” Holiday Lighting—the exterior lighting—as an attraction: “Witness the magical moment when the whimsical façade lights up in a dazzling display of festive twinkling lights, from November 12, 2021 to January 9, 2022.”

On November 18, author and journalist David Koenig shared a Facebook post that included these lines: “Cast members I’ve heard from say the damage is far worse than Disney is letting on,” and “Fears are that a considerable portion of the machinery—some dating back to the 1960s—may have to be replaced, and then recertified by Cal/OSHA.”

Might it not open at all during the 2021 holiday season?

On December 2, theme park reporter Brady MacDonald had more encouraging news in an Orange County Register article: “it’s a small world” Holiday “is expected to reopen next week, according to Disneyland officials. Disneyland began testing Small World boats along the water canals of the attraction on Thursday, Dec. 2.” The excellent article described the massive effort to complete the repair in weeks instead of months.

“it’s a small world” Holiday missed 2020, but, by golly, it wasn’t going to miss 2021.

Unlike the photos at the beginning of this article, the rest of the photos are not from the 1997-1998 season, but they are all from the first decade of the Holiday version.

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2001

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photos by Allen Huffman, 2000

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photos by Allen Huffman, 2000

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

“it’s a small world” Holiday, Disneyland

Photo by Allen Huffman, 2005

If you were alarmed seeing a Yesterland article about “it’s a small world,” don’t worry. The attraction has been a guest favorite since arriving in 1966 from its original home, the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. All indications are that the singing children of “it’s a small world” will be around long after their 1964 real-life counterparts have become senior citizens.


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Updated December 2, 2021