With the low seniority that I had after becoming a permanent part-time Cast Member in 1983, my Disneyland working hours that year included eight on Christmas day. I lived with a roommate in Anaheim, but home was a couple of hours drive west in Ventura county. I stayed there on Christmas eve before rushing back after a compressed morning with my family to make it to Harbor House in time to clock in.
Heading to work along the nearly empty freeway that early morning probably felt a little bitter. After all, I didn't get to spend the day relaxing or enjoying all my new gifts. I barely had time to open them before I had to run out the door so I could work while others played. That's part of life as a Disneylander, but sheesh, this was Christmas.
After picking up a clean costume, I changed, hefted the canvas bag of rolled coin that my Outdoor Vending supervisor handed me, and headed toward the Plaza, where I worked the popcorn wagon at the far end of Main Street. And the longer that I stood at the hub of a Park that was part of a Christmas tradition for the many who made it a point to visit Disneyland on that particular day—the warmer any cold feelings of losing out on my holiday became.
It wasn't just that I was at Disneyland on December 25. That's always extra special, but by then I'd worked both a summer and nearly a whole holiday season. I'd been to the Park more times than I had as a guest in my life, including on Christmases past.
It was that for the first time I was part of Disneyland on Christmas, a permanent part of the experience that everyone who had paid to be there on that day had wanted to buy. Guests thanked me just for helping the Park to be open. One pair passed out candy canes to me and every host and hostess that they greeted. They said that they considered it their job to cheer us on. Along with the peppermint, we seemed to share a kind of identity; we were somewhat different from everyone who wasn't then working at Walt Disney's Magic Kingdom, and we were somehow better for it.
I started to feel like I should have volunteered for the shift, and I get the same feeling now thinking back on it. It's even making this Christmas warmer.
Quite a present, really. Quite a present.