I’ve always wanted to make a Disney Small World themed menorah. For 2020 we decided to bring Disney Holidays home with a giant 9×12 ft Small World Lawn Menorah.
“Go Big and Stay Home,” I say! If we can’t go to Disney Holidays, we’ll bring Disney Holidays and Small World to our own neighborhood.
I make at least one DIY menorah every single year and I am a huge Disney fan so that often gets working into the the theme. Last year I made a Marvel menorah. Here’s a round up of all our past DIY menorahs plus a primer on how to light them.
We also usually spend a fair amount of time at Disneyland during the holiday season. As annual passholders, we are so fortunate to be able to head to the parks often, and enjoy Disney Holidays. It really is the most magical time of the year. Except we can’t get that fix this year…
Our Disney Small World Menorah Origins
Even before Covid hit, I wanted a Small World menorah. My fixation started 6 or 7 years ago. Since none were commercially available, I figured I’d have to make one. I was originally thinking small scale. The shape of the building lends itself well to becoming a menorah. The clock tower is the central candle or “shamas”, and the four candles that represent the 8 nights fit perfectly on either side. So, about four or five years ago I bought some wood blocks and made loose plans to make it and oops… it didn’t happen.
But then my husband had the big (and I mean literally BIG) idea to execute the Small World Menorah on a grander scale. He thought we should do it as a MEGA menorah? Lawn menorahs might not be a thing in your family, but in ours, it’s ON. We have a long history of “competing” with each other for our mega menorah designs. We switch off years, each executing our best. I have to admit, they haven’t always been great. We won’t talk about the year I used stacked Ikea trash bins and a massive storm front moved through, filling them with water and shorting out all the lights.
But for the Disney Small World Menorah we decided we had to collaborate. My design, his power tools. He might even got to drill pocket holes!
Disney Small World Menorah Structural Materials
We thought long and hard about this project. In fact so long and hard that another couple of years passed. What materials would stand up to the weather, but still be light enough to move around? What design would be able to be broken down so we could use it for multiple years? What construction materials would not end up costing more than our Disney passes? This is something we would debate on car trips and late at night. We went so far as to make sketches and record our plans.
After much debate, ee finally decided to make our Small World mega menorah out of plastic corrugated signboard. There would be three sections: the clock tower, and the two wings. Dozens and dozens of shapes were to be cut out of additional plastic signboard, and applied to create the full Mary Blair effect. All the plastic pieces would be attached with hot glue, and the facades were to be screwed to the frame with lathe screws. The structure could be lit from within with bunches of holiday lights.
The clock face would require special attention. That’s my department.
A few weeks ago we decided to get started. Finally! This was the year!
My husband handled the frame and even ripped his own 2x4s in order to save money. My courtyard looked like a sandy beach from all the sawdust that piled up. Or maybe snow…
We tag teamed it on the plastic. I cut the more intricate shapes and he did the math, prepping pieces for me to carve up. We both were busy day and night for a week, sitting and listening to books on audible and podcasts while giving my dad’s old exacto knives a workout.
Note: I thought of my dad so much while cutting out all this stuff. He was an artist and always making things with cardboard. ink and paper. His desk was always scattered with razor blades and assorted specialty exacto knives. There were always bits of paper and cardboard on the floor beneath. I even joke that some people find pennies as a sign from departed relatives, while I find old blades. I’d like to think he’d love this project. But to be fair he *hated* the Small World song. It was a standing joke. Hence no music will be piped in to our menorah. Out of respect for my dad!
Initially, when I came up with the design for the facade, I wanted the best of both worlds. I wanted the snow white winter version of the the Small World facade by day, and the colorful lit up version at night. I thought we could achieve this with colored cellophane gels placed underneath the shapes. This way, when the boxes were lit from within, the piece would light up colorfully and Disney-magically, like stained glass. It worked in our small sample box that we tested! But it flopped miserably in our large scale execution. We were scratching our heads and wringing our hands.
Turns out that the white corrugated plastic in the XL sheets was significantly thicker than the stuff we used for practice, and a lot more opaque too. Back to the drawing board.
Painting the Small World Menorah
Don’t you hate it when your projects have setbacks? We had not planned to do any painting on this piece. However, it was evident that we were going to need to pivot, and we embraced that! So it took another week, it was still going to be fabulous.
Quickly we laid out a color scheme for all the shapes. And then we laid out a lot of tarps. I spent a whole day labelling and spraying all the pieces, all the colors. Labelling was a critical part of the process. It made all the difference. Many of the pieces had “right” and “wrong” sides. Figuring out which piece went where or discovering I had painted the wrong side of something, afterwards, would have been a nightmare.
As soon as I started painting the pieces I knew it was better this way. Much much better. The menorah would still be lit from within (as well as having “candles” and spotlights) but it would be eye catching all day long and I had so much fun playing with the colors, and some metallic backgrounds as well.
Cricut Maker to the Rescue
I have been wanting a Cricut Maker for ages. I’ve used Cricut cuts a lot in many of my recent projects and what a difference they make.
The parts of the Smallworld facade that worried me the most were the clock numbers and the gears. I knew I could approximate the rest, but it would be hard to free-hand draw and size these elements. No matter what I thought of doing for those parts, it wasn’t going to be great. So I finally bit the bullet and bought a Cricut Maker during their black friday sale.
OMG I love this thing. Not only did I use it to make the numbers and gears, but also to make stencils for many of the larger shapes and cutouts I needed to achieve. Now my mind is whirring. I’ll be making greeting card signs (a la Disneyland Small World) before the weekend is over.
Final Touches for the Disneyland Small World Menorah
I drive my husband insane when we work together. This is why we usually do our own projects. I am an artist. So, I am very happy improvising and making changes on the fly. He is an engineer. So he likes making plans and sticking to them. You want to test your marriage? Spend six months cooped up together and then go utterly overboard building a large scale project together. Fortunately we survived and probably balanced each other out, despite any bickering that may or may not have happened.
I left some of the small details for the Small World design to the end. I spent ages looking at photos of the original, and studied the clock face while I mused about which materials to use to make it.
I could have just printed out the clock face elements on my new Cricut, but it would not have the dimensional elements that the original has. I wanted to keep that charm.
So I built up the face and eyes from plastic signboard, playing with different depths and levels. I finished it off with styrofoam balls, pipe cleaners, and additional dimensional elements like the little golden spokes to the eyes and cheeks. These were made from wood discs, dowels and beads. For the smile and piping along the “hat” I used old cable and networking cords, painted gold, along with pipe cleaners. I also tweaked the design in the triangle to more closely resemble a candle. I like that gestalt. The miracle of Hanukkah is, after all, about beating the clock.
Finally I painted wood shapes with the same colors of the facade to use for the finials & flags on the spires. At the last minute I added some sparkly stickers, just because. I attached these flags and finials to wooden skewers threaded with colorful beads. It was a nice (and cheap) last minute finish, using materials that we already had, that just came to me at the eleventh hour. I love it when that happens. My husband, not so much always! Lucky for me, he approved my last minute mod.
Why we made this Disney Small World Menorah this year
2020 has been a shitty year for all of us. And not just us. 2020 has basically sucked for the whole world. As if a global pandemic is not enough to make us miserable. We’ve also seen the effects of poison divisiveness and hateful racism. We’ve lost friends, argued with our own neighbors, and struggled with the isolation of that along with missing family and our “normal” lives.
Like many people, work and business for us has also been affected by the pandemic. Belts have been tightened. One of my husband’s major contracts was cut rather suddenly, the same week college tuition was due, and whoa! Like so many, we were scrambling. Fortunately, my very talented (and not just at building menorahs) husband was quickly snapped up by Disney Streaming. He was so so lucky and grateful to be hiredby Disney (and yes, very, VERY fortunate as most divisions are doing the opposite right now). Even better, it’s a project he loves working on. So not only are we feeling grateful for the work, but grateful in particular to Disney for that work. That sealed the deal for us. The mega Small World menorah was happening THIS YEAR.
Any other year you would find me traveling all over the world and popping back for Disney Holidays in real life Small World fashion. I don’t take that for granted. We are beyond lucky to have so many wonderful friends fall and wide, with whom we share so much – ideas, ideals and delicious late night dinners. Maybe it’s naive, but our family really does believe we have more in common than we have in opposition. We really do believe it is a Small World after all and one where kindness, inclusion, and generosity of spirit will always “win” in the end.
So from our family to yours, whatever you celebrate, Happy Everything, Peace, Love and Joy.
Next year at Disneyland.