Each fall, the Haunted Mansion in Disneyland Park gets a merry makeover that lasts from Halloween Time through the holiday season, courtesy of Jack Skellington and his pals from “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas,” and the centerpiece is the Haunted Mansion Holiday gingerbread house.
The attraction overlay that began in 2001 is celebrating its 20th season this year, and as many fans know, its signature centerpiece is the edible work of art in the mansion’s Great Hall: The Haunted Mansion Holiday gingerbread house.
It’s hard to believe now, but when Haunted Mansion Holiday was first introduced, the creative team wasn’t sure how guests would react to new (though temporary) residents in one of the park’s most iconic attractions.
“I’m a huge ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ fan, but I think we can all agree it’s a different animated film for Disney, so I was a little nervous about how the crowd might take it,” says Tim Wollweber, Disneyland senior graphic designer (and gingerbread house art director).
But, on Oct. 3, 2001 (the overlay’s opening day), Wollweber described the thrill of watching a huge crowd excitedly rush towards the mansion’s gates — and the rest is history.
Over the years, the Haunted Mansion Holiday gingerbread house has become a tradition within the tradition, with each house taking on a unique theme and design based on elements from the film, or in the case of the 2019 house, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the mansion itself. So, for the 20th-anniversary design, Wollweber explained, he took inspiration from the previous 19 houses.
“The way I think about it is if I’m Jack, how would I go about making this house?” Wollweber says. “Jack is in Halloweentown, it’s been 20 years that he’s been doing this, and he’s going to take a trip down memory lane, but when you’re in Halloweentown, memory lane literally ends at a graveyard where all the memorials are, so if you’re going to end up there, you’ve got a shovel, and you’re going to dig up the past.”
As a result, what Jack (and Wollweber) “exhumed” for the 20th Haunted Mansion Holiday gingerbread house are pieces from every past house that have been stitched together Dr. Finkelstein-style into a “Franken-House.” Plus, Wollweber notes, all character eyes on this year’s house are double exes — the roman numeral for 20, but also perhaps as a memorial for 2020 when there were no holiday celebrations at Disneyland.
As guests pass through the mansion’s Grand Hall, they will spot these nods to previous Haunted Mansion Holiday gingerbread houses:
- 2001 – Monster House
- 2002 – Present House
- 2003 – Giant Oogie Boogie House
- 2004 – Zero’s Dog House
- 2005 – Giant Man-eating Wreath House
- 2006 – Monster-infested House
- 2007 – Jack-in-the-Box House
- 2008 – Giant Gingerbread Coffin House
- 2009 – Scary-Go-Round House
- 2010 – Pop-Up Sandy Claws House
- 2011 – Mimic Monster House
- 2012 – Jack Skellington’s House
- 2013 – 13 Days of Christmas House
- 2014 – Gingerbread Zombie House
- 2015 – Gingerbread Card House
- 2016 – Stitched-Up-Patchwork House
- 2017 – Oogie Boogie Bug-infested House
- 2018 – Giant Gingerbread Spider House
- 2019 – Haunted Mansion 50 Years of Hauntings House
- 2021 – Gingerbread Franken-House
According to Wollweber, one of his favorites was the 2019 house commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Haunted Mansion.
“That year, I was able to bring some of our favorite ghosts into the gingerbread world and figure out how they would look if they were Halloweentown ghosts,” he says. “It was really fun to translate them into that style.”
Constructed by Disneyland’s bakery team, Disneyland pastry sous chef Graciela Gomez says this year’s 20th-anniversary house was created with over 200 pounds of gingerbread dough, over 200 pounds of powdered sugar, about 50 pounds of egg whites, and over a pound of glitter. It’s also the biggest house they’ve ever constructed, standing at 13 feet tall, naturally (or supernaturally, as the case may be).
The bigger-than-ever Franken-House is not the only new addition to the Haunted Mansion Holiday this year, as it seems Jack has added something to the mansion’s lawn as well.
“There’s a tradition from Victorian times that when someone would ‘shuffle this mortal coil,’ their family would […] put out a memorial wreath in front of their house, so that’s what we’re going to do,” Wollweber explains. “[Outside the mansion] there’s a mourning wreath of poinsettias and the phrase on it says Memento Mori, which means, ‘Remember you too shall die,’ but that’s a little dark for Jack on the holidays, so he’s changed it to Memento Merry – ‘Remember to be merry’ – because that’s why we’re here. It’s 20 seasons, and Jack is here to remember everything.”
Guests visiting Disneyland can experience Haunted Mansion Holiday through Jan. 9, 2022.
Check out this video for a behind-the-scenes look at how the 20th-anniversary gingerbread house came together: