- Every year, Universal Orlando’s holiday celebration includes an important mascot: Earl the Squirrel.
- Earl’s fame began when a mischievous rodent chewed through wiring, cutting some park lights.
- Now, there’s Earl the Squirrel merchandise and a stuffed animal hidden for guests to spot each year.
My first stop when I arrived at Universal Orlando for my annual holiday visit wasn’t to see Santa, the Grinch, or the troupe of roller-skating elves. I was on a hunt for the true icon of Universal’s holiday celebration: a stuffed toy squirrel named Earl. Each year, Earl can be found hidden in the 80-foot Christmas tree in the New York area of Universal Studios Florida.
It wasn’t easy to find him among the glittering ornaments and red tinsel garland, but eventually I spotted him and got entirely too excited for a woman alone at a theme park.
So, how did a squirrel become a holiday hero? A representative from Universal Orlando told Insider that many years ago as the technical-entertainment team was preparing decorations for the holiday season, they noticed the blue lights in a large section of the Christmas tree weren’t working. After further investigation, they found that a squirrel had made a nest inside the tree and chewed the wires.
The squirrel was safe and sound and an icon was born in “Earl the Squirrel.” Now, Universal’s technical-entertainment team hides a small stuffed toy squirrel, complete with a strand of blue lights hanging from his mouth, in the park’s Christmas tree. According to Alicia Stella of Orlando ParkStop, the tradition officially began in 2015.
Earl’s location changes from year to year, but he’s always there somewhere. His appearance also varies each holiday season. Last year, for example, he wore a festive face covering to encourage mask-wearing during the pandemic. When I saw him this year, he was wearing a red and black buffalo plaid trapper hat.
Turns out, you don’t have to look very hard to find Earl this year. There are Earl the Squirrel cookies, candles, shirts, hats, hoodies, mugs, caramel apples, and more all over the park. You can even buy your very own Earl the Squirrel stuffed toy to hide in your own holiday decor.
Most of these Earl the Squirrel trinkets and treats can be found inside Universal Studios’ Holiday Tribute Store. For years, the Tribute Store was reserved only for Universal’s annual Halloween Horror Nights event.
Robert Cametti, Universal Orlando’s director of visual merchandising, told Insider: “As the Tribute Store began to grow in popularity, so did the idea of having other ‘themes’ for the store that were outside of Halloween Horror Nights.” After successfully testing a Mardi Gras Tribute Store in 2020, Universal opened a Holiday Tribute Store later that same year.
Earl did have a small presence in last year’s tribute store. Earl the Squirrel’s Tree Farm signs hung in a room where you could buy baked goods and snacks, including gummy holiday lights, a nod to our main character’s penchant for gnawing on holiday decor.
The theme of the Holiday Tribute Store changes every year, in part because Universal has so many entertainment properties to draw inspiration from.
“At Universal, we have incredible brands that easily lend themselves to the holiday season, including the Grinch and The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” Cametti said. “Then we have Earl the Squirrel, who has barreled onto the scene with his insatiable love of the holidays —especially the Christmas season.”
While shopping at “Earl the Squirrel’s Christmas Curios Museum & Emporium,” I couldn’t resist an Earl-branded balsam and pine scented candle and a squirrel-shaped gingerbread cookie. The former smells just like a Christmas tree farm, and while the latter was one of the best gingerbread cookies I’ve ever had, I felt a little guilty eating a cookie made in Earl’s likeness (sorry, Earl).
Of course, Universal’s holiday decor extends far beyond Christmas critters. Aside from the Holiday Tribute Store and the 80-foot-tall tree that Earl calls home, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter gets a traditional holiday makeover with lots of greenery and twinkling lights, and Seuss Landing at Islands of Adventure is done up with whimsical, colorful decor and trees made out of large, round ornaments that light up and dance to the music.
In order to deck out the park with all those garlands, lights, trees, and ornaments, the Universal Orlando entertainment team begins planning nearly a year in advance. Throughout the year, the team refreshes current decor (presumably checking for pesky squirrel nests inside the tree is now part of that) and creates mock-ups of new items. About a month before the holiday celebration kicks off in early November, they begin decorating.
Earl the Squirrel has become a fixture in that celebration, and Cametti thinks he knows why.
“I think people love him because he’s so darn adorable,” Cametti said.