We have magic for you today folks. A double feature of different ways that Universal Studios is touching hearts this holiday season. Part one is a delightful surprise you’ll want to take the whole family to see, and part two is . . . well  . . . read on and feel the real magic of the holidays.

Christmas in the Wizarding World

Universal Studios Hollywood is bringing the spirit of Christmas to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter this season. Hogsmeade has been dressed in holiday cheer and lights up the night with a nightly Hogwarts Castle projection show. Though there are no holiday ride overlays, which we’d love to see in the future, the land is alive with a festive spirit.

We were there on opening night. My poor camera isn’t fully up to the task for night shots, but we think you’ll get the idea. And please be sure to watch the short video below.

Decorations and lights are everywhere.

The entire land is now decorated with wreaths, garlands, and props. The look is particularly festive at night with all the new lighting.

The frog choir has been a staple of Wizarding World entertainment since the opening of the land. But this year they have a new bag of tricks when the Hogwarts students regale us with holiday sounds and throaty renditions from the frogs.

Ding, dong, ding, dong, ring the Hogwarts bells . . .

You’ll also find an extensive selection of holiday-themed merchandise including ornaments, stockings, tree toppers, and figurines. A new holiday dinner at the Three Broomsticks includes everything you would expect for a grand meal: turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, red cabbage and roast vegetables. The food lives up to the high expectations and we really enjoyed it. And the best part is the return of hot Butterbeer, which is great as the temperatures tumble in the evenings this time of year in Southern California.

Holiday fare served at Three Broomsticks. Really delicious.

The photo opportunity in the Hogwarts Express car that no one ever used (because it was crazy expensive) has been turned into a fully themed shop.

But the real highlight of Christmas in the Wizarding World is the new nighttime projection show on Hogwarts Castle. With lights, music and a brief fireworks finale, the show is the just the right length to be magical without overstaying its welcome. Particularly cool is how the mapped projections are used to cut away to the inside of the castle to see what is happening. The snow projections are also quite convincing.

Here’s a bit of video we’ve pieced together with some of what you can expect to see in the Wizarding World this Christmas. We don’t give it all away, but this gives you a very good idea about the new holiday offerings:

These seasonal offerings began on November 24, and continue until January 7, so if you like Harry Potter and the festive spirit of the holidays, now’s your opportunity to see the Wizarding World in a truly enchanting new light.

You’ll find Holiday decorations and entertainment throughout Universal Studios Hollywood this year, but we’ll have to save that for a future column.

Day of Giving

But the real gift of Christmas came and went with hardly a word, but it was no less magical than what you just read above.

For years we’ve covered Universal’s annual “Day of Giving,” which provides necessities, delicious food, clothing, and real magic to hundreds of LA’s homeless children.  It’s an event which touches the soul and is hard for us to cover without tears. This isn’t an event the general public would see, but that doesn’t make its impact any less resonant.

Hundreds of Universal employees volunteered to help make a difference to six Los Angeles non-profits and over 300 homeless children on November 9th this year. The elementary school aged kids were treated to new clothing, sneakers, school supplies, books and all sorts of goodies. Then they headed into the theme park for an afternoon of fun. The beaming kids visited The Wizarding World of Harry Potter, Despicable Me Minion Mayhem, and Super Silly Fun Land, as well as a complete tour aboard the world-famous Studio Tour that started it all.

Universal is partnered with Operation School BellDiscover A Star FoundationAIDS Project L.A. (APLA)Downtown Women’s Center,  Tree People, Union Station Homeless Services, and Shane’s Inspiration. All locally based charities. 

LA’s homeless population grew a shocking 23% in the last year alone and many children are sadly among their number. We applaud Universal and their amazing employees for their heart and action to help LA’s most vulnerable citizens. We can only hope that all who are moved by what they read here will click one of those links above to provide hope for the future to some wonderful kids.

For me, this is the true meaning of Christmas. It isn’t about what we get, it’s about what we give . . . of our hearts, our energy and sometimes of our wallets as well.

Wishing each of you a very happy holidays.