Fun Facts About the Disney Christmas Parade on ABC
One of the greatest family traditions takes place on Christmas morning. No, not that one. Many of us open our presents on Christmas Eve. I’m talking about the annual Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade. If you were born in the 1980s, this television event has aired almost every year of your life! You probably take it for granted as background noise while your family celebrates the holiday, but there’s also a chance that you’re like me, a Disney obsessive who relishes this exhibition. If so, you’ll enjoy these fun facts about Disney’s annual Christmas Day parade.
Where Were You in 1983?
The history of the Disney Parks Christmas Day Parade dates back to the 1980s. Around the time that music videos were first becoming a part of the collective consciousness, some enterprising Disney executive got the bright idea to televise the park’s annual holiday parade. They took this idea to ABC, their longtime broadcast partners. For its part, the network struggled to find quality television programs on Christmas, particularly live events that could draw a large viewing audience.
The parties agreed to air Walt Disney World’s Very Merry Christmas Parade in 1983. ABC selected some of its biggest names to co-host the event. Joan Lunden was already renowned for her work on Good Morning America, a program she hosted from 1980 through 1997. Mike Douglas was also a popular television host and start of the Mike Douglas Show, and his roots with Disney went way back. Douglas actually did all the singing for Prince Charming in Cinderella. More than 33 years after that seminal role, he returned to anchor the first parade.
Almost an Annual Tradition
The immediate success of the parade led to an extended agreement between Disney and ABC, one that lasted all the way up until Disney purchased the network in 1995, with shareholders agreeing to the deal in January of 1996. Oddly, it was when Disney owned ABC that the parade’s streak ended.
After 17 consecutive years of parades, Disney decided not to broadcast the event in 2000. Mickey Mouse fanatics were aghast at this decision, although Disney did air something that year. Rather than show the parade again, ABC hosted a Santa Tracker special on Christmas Eve instead. Despite the decidedly Disney slant, it wasn’t quite the same to parade fans, most of whom were old enough to know the truth about the tracker.
In 2001, Disney returned to their regular schedule of airing the parade on Christmas morning, a tradition they have continued every year since then. As such, the Disney parade has been a part of our lives every year since 1983, although 2000 gets a Christmas Eve asterisk. That makes the 2017 version either the 34th annual or 35th annual broadcast, depending on your perspective of the ill-fated Santa Tracker year.
The Hosts with the Most
Notably, 2000 wasn’t the first time Disney had tweaked the format. ABC has tried to keep the parade fresh throughout the years. They believe that the same basic production each year won’t satisfy fans. I personally disagree with this evaluation, as I view the timelessness of Disney one of its true strengths. Alas, I don’t get a vote.
The first major change Disney made to the broadcast was adding Alan Thicke in place of Mike Douglas, who had aged out of the role. In 1990, Disney altered the hosting lineup again, bringing Regis Philbin into the fold. Reege would hold these duties several years through 2008. By 2001, his on-air co-host, Kelly Ripa, would join him in calling the Disney parade.
I would be remiss if I ignored one unusual choice as a host, though. In 1996, Jerry Van Dyke, the co-star of ABC’s Coach, handled hosting duties alongside Suzanne Somers. On the surface, this appeared like a way to highlight ABC’s television lineup, as Somers starred on Step by Step. More importantly, it was a lovely acknowledgement of ABC history, though. Jerry Van Dyke and his more famous brother, Dick, had a long and productive career in the industry. Hiring a Van Dyke to host the parade was a touching acknowledgement of the family’s importance to Disney and ABC.
During the 2000s, the parade hosts haven’t been as static. One of the reasons is that the company started doing joint broadcasts from Disneyland and Magic Kingdom, whereas it was an Orlando-exclusive broadcast prior to 2009. Due to the change, a lot of co-hosts and parade reporters/interviewers have appeared in recent years. They include Wayne Brady, Ryan Seacrest, Neil Patrick Harris, Nick Cannon, Maria Menounos, Mario Lopez, Sarah Hyland, Robin Roberts, Rob Marciano, Jesse Palmer, Janel Parish, Nick Lachey, Julianne Hough, and Derek Hough.
The music artists who have performed throughout the years are even more impressive. Past parade musicians include *deep breath* Ariana Grande, Harry Connick Jr., the Backstreet Boys, *NSYNC, Mandy Moore, Jessica Simpson, Kelly Clarkson, Mariah Carey, Paulina Rubio, Ashley Tisdale, Vanessa Williams, the Jonas Brothers, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Demi Lovato, Selena Gomez, Jennifer Hudson, Cee Lo Green, Christina Aguilera, One Republic, Train, Phillip Phillips, Ne-Yo, Gavin DeGraw, Charlie Puth, and Reba McEntire.
You can see the full list of former hosts, performers, and other on-air talent and guests at this Wikipedia page.
Did You Know?
The Christmas Day Parade that you watch on television isn’t the same one that you’d see in the parks that day. Disney’s rarely hosted live productions of parade elements due to the difficulty in scheduling them. Even cast members can’t fully control or predict guest behavior or crowds during the Christmas parade. As such, they have historically recorded the shows during the first two weeks of December. The last time that the parade featured a live broadcast of some sort was in 1995. And ABC hasn’t done a live broadcast of the full parade since 1993!
In recent years, Disney has recorded the parade even earlier! The company does this in order to air multiple holiday specials. You may have already watched the post-Thanksgiving one. Both specials filmed at Disneyland rather than Walt Disney World this year. Before you point out that Twilight Zone Tower of Terror was clearly used as a backdrop for Hanson’s performance, A) Nobody knows who Hanson is. B) You didn’t let me finish!
The main portion of this year’s broadcast takes place at Disneyland. The parks also recorded segments at other parks, too. It’s basically the same way that the show has been filmed in the past, only Disneyland was the hub for a change. You’ll still see performances from Magic Kingdom, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These concerts occurred on November 3rd through November 7th. In case you’re wondering, the actual parade is from Magic Kingdom. So, that tradition remains alive.
Finally, if you’re like me and adore all of the parades, I have great news! You’ll find many of them in their entirety on YouTube. Here’s a link to 2013’s show, which features the best performance I’ve ever seen at the parade. It’s Demi Lovato absolutely wrecking Let It Go, a song that nobody seems to remember that she sings on the soundtrack. I’ve cued the video to that song, but you can rewind if you want to watch the broadcast from the beginning.
Note that on the right side of YouTube, you should see video recommendations for other Disney parades. Just in case you don’t, I’ll link you to three more:
After clicking these links, you’ll train YouTube to suggest other Disney Christmas parades. Enjoy them all, my friends!
David Mumpower is the author of the Disney Demystified series. For only $4.99 each, you can read book one about Disneyland or book two about Walt Disney World. The softcover books also make amazing stocking stuffers this holiday season!