Tristen Tierney turned his love of Halloween, Christmas and all holidays from an obsessive hobby as a kid into a full-time career as a Disneyland resort enhancement team leader that allows him to pursue his passion 24/7/365.
“I still can’t believe it’s real,” said Tierney, a Disneyland Resort Enhancement Holiday Services Lead. “This is what I’ve been dreaming about.”
The Disneyland Resort Enhancement team has spent the past month adding pumpkins, bunting and fall colors to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure in preparation for the kick off of Halloween Time on Friday, Sept. 1.
The Disneyland Resort Enhancement team of about a dozen or so employees usually works from 4 a.m. to noon — but the night shift starts just after midnight whenever a holiday installation is underway.
“The cool part about this job is we design all the décor,” said Tierney, who bears a striking resemblance to Gaston from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast.” “Then we build the décor, we install it and we take it down.”
On a recent morning at 3 a.m. under a Super Blue Moon, the Disneyland Resort Enhancement team installed carved pumpkins, orange and gold bunting and fall color foliage along Main Street U.S.A.
The graveyard shift started with a slow-moving caravan of cherry picker boom lifts traveling at 4 mph from behind Radiator Springs Racers and across the esplanade to Main Street U.S.A.
Resort enhancement team members in safety vests and hard hats worked behind white and orange striped barricades blocking Main Street USA. Workers wielding flashlights behind the curtained second-story windows helped colleagues aloft in cherry pickers install comical pumpkin displays along the building facades of Disneyland’s main thoroughfare.
Pop music from the Ramones, No Doubt and Pat Benatar played over the Main Street USA loudspeaker system as headlights from passing pickup trucks and golf carts circled the central hub in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. An employee with a fire hose washed down the street — creating a mirror-like reflection of the popcorn lights rimming the Victorian-style buildings.
A pre-teen Tierney first fell in love with Disneyland décor in 2007 after stumbling upon YouTube videos about how Disneyland decorates for the holidays.
“The whole thing was about how you can make holiday décor from stuff around your house,” Tierney said. “So I started going around my house finding different things and following the videos.”
Using the videos as a guide, Tierney turned the foyer of his family’s Reno, Nevada, home into a Main Street U.S.A.-inspired winter wonderland made with ornaments, ribbon and garland.
“I would try anything I could replicate to make it look like Disneyland,” Tierney said.
As a kid, Tierney’s family would travel twice a year to Disneyland during the summer and at Christmas. But unlike other kids who wanted a snapshot with Mickey Mouse, Tierney took photos of all the décor in the park.
“I started replicating all the décor that I would see,” Tierney said. “I noticed every year the decor would get better and better as the technology improved.”
A YouTube video of the massive Disneyland warehouse where all the holiday decorations are stored throughout the year convinced Tierney he could turn his fledgling hobby into a full-time career.
“I was like, ‘This is really cool. I really think I want to do this,’” Tierney said.
Before long, the holiday hobby turned into an all-encompassing obsession. Tierney started cataloging Disneyland’s ever-changing holiday decoration packages with a spreadsheet and searching online for the exact brackets and ties the park used to attach the décor to the Main Street U.S.A. buildings.
A decade after his fascination started, Tierney moved to Southern California and landed a job at Disneyland — first as a lifeguard at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and then in the park’s character department.
His timing was fortuitous. In 2017, Main Street U.S.A. got an entirely new holiday package and the park sold the old décor at an employee-only sale. Tierney poured over all the garland, ornaments and lighting for further clues about how to add more Disney magic to his home holiday displays.
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“I took it all apart to see how it was made,” Tierney said. “And I was like, ‘Oh, I’m not that far off with how I thought it was made to how it actually is.’”
While working in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Tierney’s manager learned of his true love and asked him to decorate a backstage break room for the holidays. The break room project led to a tour of the Disneyland décor warehouse that Tierney had only ever seen in YouTube videos — and soon an application to transfer to the Resort Enhancement team that installs all the holiday décor.
That was early 2020 — and then the COVID-19 pandemic hit and shuttered Disneyland for a year. After the park reopened, Tierney finally realized his destiny and joined Disneyland’s Resort Enhancement team.
“The first day I was redoing all the wreaths on Main Street and it felt like I was at home,” Tierney said. “It felt so natural.”
In his spare time, Tierney still decorates his own home for the holidays and always tries to have the best designed house on the block. His garage is filled with holiday décor.
“I basically need a warehouse at this point,” said Tierney, 28, of La Habra.
Tierney still spends time on YouTube watching live streams of visitors walking into Disneyland.
“I love to hear the reactions just because we spend so much time on these packages,” Tierney said. “It also helps because then you can see it from the guest perspective.”