Theme parks add diversity to seasonal holiday celebrations like Diwali, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah

In the world of theme parks, the holiday season kicks off as soon as the gates open on Nov. 1. Parks like Walt Disney World undergo a full transformation overnight, while others roll out the trimmings more gradually.

One thing most theme parks have in common is that their “holiday” celebrations are predominantly centered around Christmas. That’s really no surprise, considering upward of 90% of Americans observe Christmas, according to a 2019 Gallup poll. However, Christmas is far from the only major holiday that is observed this time of year in America and across the world.

Related: 3 ways Disney is becoming a more magical, inclusive place to visit and work

In recent years, U.S. theme parks have strengthened their focus on diversity and inclusion, and that effort extends to adding representation for holidays other than Christmas to their festive lineups. Because theme parks stretch out their holiday programming, there’s ample time to visit and celebrate the following fall and winter holidays:



Diwali, India’s “festival of lights,” is observed by millions of people across many faiths, including Hindus, Jains, Sikhs and some Buddhists. The name is derived from the Sanskrit word “Deepavali,” which translates to “row of lights.”

In short, Diwali symbolizes the victory of light over darkness, good over evil and knowledge over ignorance. Diwali typically falls in October or November, though the exact date changes each year based on the Hindu lunar calendar. This year, Diwali will be celebrated on Nov. 12, though theme park visitors can experience the festivities through the end of the year.

Walt Disney World

In the Asia section of Disney’s Animal Kingdom, you’ll find yellow and red marigold garlands and more than 50 colorful glowing lanterns hanging from teak poles that were hand-carved in Indonesia with Balinese patterns. You can view the decorations near the Anandapur Theater through the end of the year.


The Disney Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure runs from Nov. 10, 2023, through Jan. 7, 2024. Food, decorations and live entertainment represent diverse cultural traditions from around the world, including Diwali. The seasonal Festive Foods Marketplace serves global holiday dishes, including a chicken tikka masala dish and a guava-mango lassi, both inspired by Diwali.



Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights, is an eight-day celebration that marks the recovery of Jerusalem from the Syrian Greeks and the subsequent rededication of the city’s holy temple. One of the most recognizable symbols of Hanukkah is the nightly menorah lighting, but you can expect to find many other traditions and culinary specialties associated with the holiday. This year, Hanukkah begins on Dec. 7 and ends on Dec. 15.

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Universal Orlando Resort

Universal Orlando has eight on-site hotels, and each one has a menorah lighting ceremony in its lobby each night of Hanukkah. The ceremonies begin at sundown each evening.

Busch Gardens Williamsburg

Returning for the second year, Busch Gardens Williamsburg is hosting a scavenger hunt celebrating winter traditions worldwide, including Christmas, Kwanzaa and Hanukkah. The scavenger hunt is included with paid admission during Busch Gardens Christmas Town, and guests can pick up a clue sheet in the England area of the park. After you find the holiday symbols throughout the park, you can turn in your clue sheet and redeem it for a sweet treat at the Emporium.

SeaWorld Orlando

From Dec. 18 through Dec. 26, visitors to SeaWorld Orlando can participate in a nightly lighting of a menorah in Sesame Street Land.

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World honors many winter holidays and traditions during the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays. This year, the event runs from Nov. 24 through Dec. 30, 2023.

For Hanukkah, a costumed storyteller will hold court in the area between the Morocco and France pavilions of Epcot’s World Showcase multiple times daily, recounting tales of the music and traditions of Hanukkah from around the world. In this same area, you’ll find the L’Chaim Holiday Kitchen, which serves up iconic dishes like pastrami on rye sandwiches, black and white cookies and potato latkes.

Sesame Place Philadelphia

Sesame Street resident Baby Bear celebrates Hanukkah with his family and excitedly shares traditions like lighting the menorah and playing a game of dreidel with Sesame Place visitors during the park’s Hanukkah celebration. The event occurs at 4:30 p.m. between Dec. 8 and Dec. 10.


As part of the Disney Festival of the Holidays, you can find Hanukkah festivities and live entertainment. You can also fuel up at the Festive Foods Marketplace — with dishes like lox and everything bagel nachos, loaded latkes or a brisket slider — and shop for Hanukkah merchandise at World of Disney and other souvenir shops.



Kwanzaa is a celebration of African American and Pan-African culture and community. This year, the weeklong holiday kicks off on Dec. 26 and runs through New Year’s Day. Each of the seven nights represents a different community-building principle of African culture.

Walt Disney World

During the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays (Nov. 24 through Dec. 30), Epcot visitors can experience the wonder of both Christmas and Kwanzaa with the inspiring gospel, R&B and holiday songs of the Joyful ensemble. Performances occur at 1:15 p.m., 2:20 p.m., 3:25 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. daily at the World Showcase Plaza.

Sesame Place Philadelphia

Each afternoon during Kwanzaa at 4:30 p.m., favorite Sesame Street characters will share a special Kwanzaa storytime and Kinara lighting. It will commemorate and educate families about Kwanzaa principles and traditions.

SeaWorld Orlando

Like Sesame Place, SeaWorld Orlando will hold daily Kwanzaa festivities between Dec. 26, 2023, and Jan. 1, 2024. Head to Sesame Street Land for a time of reflection and celebration of African heritage and a nightly lighting of the Kinara.


Along with other winter holidays, Disneyland recognizes Kwanzaa with festive musical performances, tasty foods and more during Disney Festival of the Holidays at Disney California Adventure.

Latin American holiday traditions


Like other countries where Christianity is the predominant religion, Christmas is widely celebrated in Latin American countries. There are a number of Christmas traditions unique to this continent.

Las Posadas, which translates to “the inns,” is a nine-day celebration between Dec. 16 and Dec. 24 that commemorates the journey Mary and Joseph made to Bethlehem. Three Kings Day, which takes place on Jan. 6 annually, marks the day the three wise men found their way to the baby Jesus.

Walt Disney World

Sundays through Thursdays during the Epcot International Festival of the Holidays, you can participate in a Las Posadas celebration at the Mexico pavilion with dancers, pinatas and fiery performances by popular Epcot band Mariachi Cobre. At the nearby Las Posadas Holiday Kitchen in the Mexico Pavilion, you can dine on festive holiday cuisines like barbacoa, tostadas and dulce de leche churros.


Over on the West Coast at Disney California Adventure’s Festival of the Holidays, you can immerse yourself in Latin American Christmas traditions all season long, beginning with the Viva Navidad Street Party, which runs from Nov. 10, 2023, through Jan. 7, 2024. This lively street party features music, dancing and larger-than-life puppets of Santa and Mrs. Claus. Of course, Mickey and Minnie make appearances as well. You can also stop by Paradise Garden Grill for specialty dishes like a loaded torta, chocolate cake flan and street-style watermelon.

On Three Kings Day (Jan. 6, 2024), Disney wraps up its festive holiday season with an event at Paradise Gardens Park that pays tribute to the three wise men. You’ll experience traditional decor and a special photo opportunity.

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