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The Nightmare Before Christmas is, first and foremost, a Halloween movie

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.

On October 29th in the year 1993, Halloween was created. Well, not exactly… Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was released that day, so it’s pretty much the same thing. Directed by Henry Selick, with its score and songs written by Danny Elfman, the stop motion animated film has long since become a cult classic. Even if you haven’t seen it, everyone knows who Jack Skellington is (slapping his skeleton face on merchandise is a guaranteed moneymaker). But we are here to discuss the debate that has been going on for more than 25 years; is The Nightmare Before Christmas a Halloween film, or is it really a Christmas tale? I’m sorry, but this masterpiece clearly belongs to spooky season.

Some say that the movie does a perfect job of balancing both of these beloved holidays, and there’s certainly truth in that. However, it’s important to look at the plot before you try turning a pumpkin spice latte into eggnog (or candy corn into a candy cane). While Christmas plays a pivotal role within the film, it’s mostly used for character exploration and growth. Instead of being a lasting motif, it’s a device that serves the arc of its protagonist throughout the movie. Also, I have yet to see endless Hot Topic items inspired by Christmas-centric characters. Argue with the wall.

The story of Jack Skellington starts with him feeling unsatisfied with his circumstances. Even after flawlessly performing a musical number with his supernatural buddies (This is Halloween), this man says he’s sick and tired of being the Pumpkin King. Understandableーdon’t we all get bored of our routine at one point or another? Don’t we all take up new hobbies in order to explore other options? Instead of signing up for a yoga class, Jack decides to take ownership of Christmas, and that’s totally okay because sometimes familiarity makes us feel empty. This was his shiny new toy that quickly started to rust. In Christmas Town, everything was colorful and bright, and Jack was drawn to it because it was different.

Tim Burton Christmas GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY
Touchstone Pictures / GIPHY

As he becomes more dedicated towards pursuing the role of Santa Claus, we can see that his spooky mannerisms are never altered. The creatures in his town support himーdespite all their confusion as to what Christmas wasーbut they add their own twist to the mix; including giving out possessed dolls, large snakes, man-eating plants and other horrors as Christmas presents. Jack even takes the normal route when seeking out Saint Nick in order to inform him of his plan: he sends three small trick-or-treaters to kidnap him. His intentions are pure, but he never truly abandons his nature as the Pumpkin King. Even when he’s chasing other endeavors, the spirit of Halloween is still consistently present in the way he goes about things.

After discovering the negative reaction from the world due to his presence disturbing a holiday that did not belong to him, this breaks his heart momentarily. Jack is then grateful that he was able to give this new adventure his best shot and proclaims that his failed attempt to sabotage Christmas served as inspiration for more creative ways to scare others. This is the moment that solidifies the film as a Halloween tradition; a holiday that is all about acceptance and embracing the unconventional. Jack accepts his identity and realizes that, through his desire to change, he eventually finds a new hope for the future of who he truly was. Excited for next Halloween, he sets out to make amends for the mess he caused. Don’t we all get a little messy while figuring ourselves out?

Stop Motion Halloween GIF by Disney - Find & Share on GIPHY
Touchstone Pictures, Disney / GIPHY

Before we proceed, let’s analyze the title for a second. The Nightmare Before Christmas. The nightmare portion of it symbolizes Jack’s involvement. Wreaking havoc and possibly inflicting life-long trauma on children and their parents was never his goal. Regardless, it was the outcome, and he does all of this before Christmas day. That is, until Santa Claus corrects his misstep and sets everything right. The word Christmas also packs a lot of meaning because, just like this time of the year always fills us up with warmth and mends our broken spirit, Jack’s relationship with this special day allowed him to confront his emptiness and regain his faith in himself. It also taught him that Halloween could also be joyful, colorful and innovativeーunlike the muted colors and calculated scares that he was used to. After this realization, Jack slowly but surely falls back in love with Halloween.

While some can argue that Christmas is at the heart of the film, given the fact that it all leads up to Jack’s chaotic spin on the night of Christmas Eve, or small things like his dog (a ghost pup with a bright red nose) representing Rudolf the Red-Nosed Reindeer, it’s not really much to go on. If you are looking for a holly jolly film about a character hijacking Christmas, may I recommend How the Grinch Stole Christmas?

All I’m saying is that Tim Burton did not give us this classic, that is jam-packed with ideas for Halloween outfits and merchandise, just for a considerable amount of people to be running around with their Christmas sweaters claiming it as if the Grinch wasn’t right there. Ultimately, we’re all entitled to our opinions (even if they are wrong) and it’s beautiful to see how many discussions have been born from the film. It shows how much it has resonated with audiences and the love it has inspired. I hope we can keep the conversation going for years to come, even if there’s only one answer. 

Elisabet Ramírez is an Education in English major, with a minor in Acting. An artist at heart, she enjoys writing short stories, comedy routines and scripts. You can always find her typing furiously in the notes app on her phone or learning the dialogue from movie scenes by heart.
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