Julianne and Derek Hough Are 'Bringing Hope' with Disney Holiday Special After 'a Difficult Year'
The sibling duo also tell PEOPLE about their gingerbread-filled holiday plans
On Thanksgiving night, the sibling duo will return as co-hosts for the fifth anniversary edition of "The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration." They last hosted the ABC special together in 2016, during its inaugural year.
"It's been such a challenging and difficult year," Julianne tells PEOPLE. "The special is something that's fun and joyful and uplifting that will allow you to escape with your family and give you energy for what's to come. We've been so serious this year, and rightfully so with the pandemic and the election, but we're bringing some hope and some cheer."
To kick the night off, Derek, 35, and Julianne, 32, will sing and dance through a medley of holiday classics in a fantastical new show open.
"The opening number is so much fun," Derek says. "We dance through different lands in the park — Frontierland, Galaxy's Edge and on Main Street — so we got to do cool transitions and switch costumes. It felt big, even though it was just Julianne and I dancing. We just love to entertain and bring joy."
While filming together, Derek says he and Julianne had plenty of fun together and even got "slap-happy."
"There was this helicopter that kept flying above us, and it was ruining all the shots," he recalls. "So we were like, 'Oh, look, it's Tink but she's got a new whip!' Then Julianne's like, 'No, it's not Tink, it's Tank.' I don't know why I found that so hilarious, but I couldn't stop laughing."
"I got the giggles every time the helicopter would go 'round, which was all the time," he adds. "I would act as if it was like this new version of Tinkerbell. Anyways, we had a ball."
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For Julianne, getting to do what she loves with someone she loves is always an "awesome" experience.
"You get to build memories and experiences for years to come," she says. "It's how you connect and bond. When we record together, we kind of don't even talk. We just go for it."
After the show open, the siblings — with some help from third co-host Trevor Jackson at Disney World — will then take viewers on a ride through fan-favorite performances from the specials throughout the years, from artists including Kelly Clarkson, Jason Derulo, Ciara, Andrea Bocelli, OneRepublic, Pentatonix, Becky G, Shaggy and Aloe Blacc.
Kristen Bell and Idina Menzel's 2017 duet of "When We're Together" from Olaf's Frozen Adventure will also be shown, in addition to the duets done by Boyz II Men and JoJo in 2016 and Meghan Trainor and Brett Eldredge in 2018.
From the start, being a part of the special made perfect sense for Derek and Julianne, who have visited Disneyland since they were kids. As they grew up, they developed an even greater appreciation for the theme park.
"We have been fortunate that we've been able to take our nieces and nephews over the past 15 years," Julianne says. "Seeing Disneyland through the eyes of a child is even more fun than actually experiencing it yourself. Seeing kids light up is pretty awesome."
When it comes to their own plans for the holidays, the siblings plan to keep it relatively low key.
"I think I'll just stay home with the animals and enjoy some cooking with my [girlfriend Hayley Erbert]," Derek says. "We're going to keep it safe and responsible and just take a breath and enjoy."
The holidays will look different for many across the country due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but Julianne — newly single after filing for divorce from husband Brooks Laich — is bringing the holiday cheer to the comfort of her own home.
"My Christmas decorations are already up," she says. "I put those up very early. I love decorating gingerbread houses. I'm all about it."
At the mention of gingerbread houses, Derek says that he's also "thinking about" making them.
"My girl's been really into Scandal, so maybe we have to do a Scandal gingerbread house," he says. "Holidays are all about catching up on shows you've never watched. [Years later] I'm like, 'Now I get it!'"
The Wonderful World of Disney: Magical Holiday Celebration — which will also give viewers a sneak peek into Remy's Ratatouille Adventure coming to EPCOT in Orlando, Florida, in 2021 and a first look at the new Disney/Pixar film Soul coming to Disney+ Dec. 25 — airs Nov. 26 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.
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