What Holiday Does ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ Belong To?

© Disney Enterprises

The beloved stop-animation musical classic — The Nightmare Before Christmas — explores what would happen if Halloween and Christmas were to collide. The film was originally released for the Halloween season in 1993 however, Tim Burton wrote the original poem — on which the movie is based — inspired by the 1960s television specials such as How The Grinch Stole Christmas. So, which holiday does this movie belong to? The movie might have the word ‘Christmas’ in its title but don’t forget it also has the word ‘nightmare’. 

It is said that Burton, the film’s writer and producer, was inspired by a store’s display that was replacing their stock of spooky merchandise full of ghouls and goblins with the glittery snow and reindeer usually associated with the December event. The juxtaposition got his creativity brewing and the end result was the story of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloweentown, who stumbles (quite literally) upon a community full of snow, elves, and ‘the Sandy Claws’. This gives Nightmare a level ground between the two festivities from its roots but the end product is the battle of the holidays. 

© Disney Enterprises

The opening sequence — and my personal favorite song on the soundtrack — is an introduction to Halloweentown. Images of gravestones, jack-o-lanterns, and creaking gates lead to the nasty monsters under your bed showing that this town is a manifestation of all your worst nightmares. The climax of the opening scene is the introduction of the skinny skeleton in the ripped pinstripe suit. Jack Skellington is his name and he is essentially the patron saint – or more appropriately the patron sinner – of the holiday in which his town adores. This first scene gives Halloween a bit of a lead but Jack is not as satisfied with the same old habits that occur year after year as his fellow citizens might believe. 

The creepy crawlers of Halloweentown trust that Jack will use the 364 days leading up to their annual ceremony to make the most horrifying and bloodcurdling Halloween yet. The other residents around the dark township are exuberant about their purpose, starting their countdown until the next year the moment the current year’s bash has settled down but Jack feels differently. The glitz and glamour of being the Pumpkin King do not enthuse his spirit any longer and he wants for something more than orange and black. This boredom Jack experience gives him the motivation to explore the world outside of Halloweentown, leading him to the forest of the holidays and ultimately, to Christmastown. 

© Disney Enterprises

Can you imagine the weird satisfaction a depressed skeleton might have when he happens upon snow for the first time? Jack loves the quaintness of Christmastown which is filled with flashing lights and warmth from a fireplace, something quite different from the death that suffocates the trees and ground in his place of origin. The mysterious is always fun to explore, especially when it comes to the scent of pie instead of rot. The appearance of Jack’s excitement at not finding monsters under the sleeping children’s bed might seem like Christmas is now tied and looking to take this cult classic into its holiday category but slow down your reindeer, Santa, because there’s still quite a bit of movie to look at. 

Inspired by his little getaway, Jack decides to bring the traditions he observed back to his own community and take over Santa’s annual Christmas Eve job. Though the physical elements can be recreated and the actions can sort of be copied, the true spirit of joy and glee is missing from the ragamuffin bunch of terrifying creatures that make up Halloweentown. They attempt to copy the more optimistic holiday but are unable to fake the cheer that comes from more than just some ribbons on presents. This is where Halloween officially takes The Nightmare Before Christmas into its grasps. Somehow people are much more accepting when a stranger comes into their home while they are asleep and leaves a teddy bear or a toy train rather than a jack-in-the-box with sharp, gnawing teeth.

Jack Skellington’s wasted efforts to celebrate Christmas allowed a period of revitalization for his love for Halloween which proves that time apart really does make the heart grow fonder. There is nothing wrong with needing a moment away to be reminded of how great our life situation is and how terrible we are at the jobs meant for other people. Of course, who wouldn’t want to live in a world where Halloween is the focus of every single day? Thankfully, we have this feature to watch every October 31 to appreciate the ominous themes that are associated with the spookiest day of the year because The Nightmare Before Christmas is definitely a Halloween movie.

Shea Vassar

Cherokee Nation writer and filmmaker, staff writer for Film Daze, huge Oklahoma City Thunder basketball fan, active defender of Rogue One, and lover of carrots and coffee (but not together)

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