You think Disney (NYSE: DIS ) is a big deal here in the States? Try going to Sweden for Christmas.
Here's how every single Christmas unfolded when I was growing up. I'd wake up early on Dec. 24 to open a single teaser gift and find some handmade Christmas candies on my nightstand. Breakfast could be skipped on Christmas Eve, because I was just hours away from the biggest meal of the year anyway. While mom worked on the ham, lutfisk, rice porridge, and meatballs, I was playing with that one toy until lunchtime.
As important as the meal was, there was a mighty powerful deadline by which I needed to clean my plate. Every year since the late 1960s, the Disney Christmas special has started on Swedish TV by 3 p.m. If you're not watching it, you might as well be Norwegian. The opening of presents has to wait until after Donald Duck.
That's the kind of grip Disney has on Swedish holiday culture, and I'm trying hard to raise my own kids the same way. I still get chills when Cinderella sighs at the unattainable ball in the castle.
This year, the company itself has given me some of the same chills. I was a longtime Pixar shareholder, and I wouldn't have touched Disney's stock with a 10-foot pole last Christmas. Then-CEO Michael Eisner had recently been railroaded out of town in tar and feathers, his long legacy tainted by a Grinch-like management attitude and several bad mistakes at the end. His replacement hadn't yet made an impression on me.
A year later, new CEO Bob Iger has become one of my personal heroes. I became a shareholder when he acquired Pixar in a stroke of brash genius. By then, I had already seen enough of the new management's brilliance to keep the shares rather than cashing out. Bridges burned by his predecessor had construction crews all around them. Iger seemed open to the new realities of digital entertainment, and his hands-off management style was starting to take shape.
Giving the top brass from Pixar ultimate control over Disney's heart-and-soul animation unit was the decider for me. The movies are the fuel for the rest of Disney's business, and it's extremely important to get them right. That's all Pixar ever does, in stark contrast to Eisner's Disney crew. Putting Pixar in charge was the best present Santa Iger could give his shareholders for the very long run.
Now that Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL ) CEO Steve Jobs is Disney's largest shareholder and a member of the board, a stronger digital vision is a given. Master delegator Iger now has a famed visionary with whom he can discuss ideas and shape our entertainment future. I bet Rupert Murdoch would sell his Christmas tree if it'd put Jobs on the board of his News Corp. (NYSE: NWS ) . The same goes for Howard Stringer over at Sony (NYSE: SNE ) .
So thanks for a great year, Mr. Iger. My shares have increased in value by 22% since the conversion, and I don't expect the growth to stop any time soon. Disney is quite frankly positioning itself to become the entertainment powerhouse of the future, and the rest of the field is scrambling just to keep up. Pass me a cup of glogg and be quiet -- I don't want to miss Santa's toys marching into his bag.
There's a whole world of naughty and nice out there! Take a lookat the rest of the bunch.
Fool contributorAnders Bylundis a Disney shareholder, but holds no other position in any of the companies discussed here. You can check outAnders' holdings if you like. Foolishdisclosure looks great in a white beard and red coat.