On Christmas Eve in 1955, I walked up Main Street in the early evening. And on this night, with the garlands strung between the lampposts, the wreaths hanging in all the store windows, and the huge Christmas tree in Town Square, the atmosphere drew me in.
My favorite time to be in the park is in the middle of the night with the twinkle lights in the trees, and without the people, the park is quiet, peaceful, and beautiful. I feel like I’m alone in my own little city. Few people visit the park that way, and although Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, and Frontierland have their own character and personality when empty, Main Street is the most magical and pristine, like no one has ever been there before.
Because the park was practically empty on that Christmas Eve night, a family caught my attention, and as the mother, father, their 10-year-old son and younger daughter walked down Main Street, I followed them. They were dressed neatly but not stylish; the father and son wore overalls. The mother wore a cotton dress with a coat. They all held hands. They talked to each other and appeared to be a close-knit family.
When they arrived at the Christmas tree in Town Square, next to The Emporium with the mechanical Santa Claus and dolls in the window, the little girl tugged on her mom’s arm and said, “Mom, this really was better than having Santa Claus.”
I knew then that Santa wasn’t bringing them presents. The parents must have told their children that if they went to Disneyland, Santa couldn’t bring presents. Right then, I wanted to take them into The Emporium and let them pick out anything they wanted, but, sadly, I didn’t have the authority to do so. This family came to Disneyland but could not afford to spend a lot of money. So, for this family, their time at the park was probably Christmas. The kids would forego toys, and mom and dad wouldn’t receive presents.
To me, this one brief moment proved to be my most meaningful memory at the park because it symbolized what we mean to people: We are not a cure for cancer, we are not going to save the world, but if we can make people that happy for a few hours or for a day, then we are doing something worthwhile.