Why “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a Christmas Movie

Written by Rachel Ganzewinkel December 25, 2011

There’s always a sweetness to Tim Burton’s nightmares.

Tim Burton is a pretty creative guy – to say the least. He has produced such stunning, dark classics as Edward Scissorhands and Beetlejuice, and other stop-motion animation favourites Corpse Bride and James and the Giant Peach. But none of these gothic twists on reality can hold a candle to The Nightmare Before Christmas, the still-terrifying-to-adults stop animation movie that I honestly wouldn’t recommend having young children watch. It can only be appreciated in the later years for its themes that will be missed by children too horrified by the monsters they see on screen in Halloweentown.

The long-limbed main character, Jack Skellington of Nightmare is idolized by many teenagers who don themselves in the latest gothic style, filled with angst and lack of holiday cheer. It would seem, if taken at face value, this movie is the opposite of anything Christmas related. This movie appears to embody the lack of Christmas cheer, or any cheer, as it primarily focuses on the hell that is Halloweentown. But in reality, this movie is filled with the attempt to bring unbridled joy amidst the characters’ bleak existence.

While Halloweentown seems like the 5th circle of Hell, with a clown that rips off its face, and a crazy, creepy, sadistic Boogeyman, who is SO gosh darn insane he is kept from the rest of Halloweentown because even they don’t want to deal with him (it?), there is some attempt at alleviating the Nightmare that is the population’s existence.

Just the Boogeyman torturing Santa

Jack Skellington wants more out of his life than just scaring people and he wanders through the woods until he finds trees marked with drawings symbolizing the major Western holidays such as Easter, Valentine’s Day, and Christmas. He falls into the tree to find this heavenly existence where people are happy and singing. Bringing this news back to Halloweentown, the population struggles to grasp the good-natured concept of giving presents and hanging up stockings (not filled with amputated feet).

Jack’s intention is to only spread glorious holiday cheer and counts down the days until Christmas throughout Halloweentown with a giant clock a la The Grinch Who Stole Christmas. He gives each and every person in town a duty they must fulfill to make Christmas a reality, like Santa does for his elves. He decorates the town with the resources he has and becomes so entrenched in the idea of giving gifts that one cannot deny the absolute (but slightly off) Christmas feeling.

What child doesn't want a giant snake eating their Christmas tree?

Jack Skellington only has good intentions when he hires some hooligans to kidnap Santa Claus, leading to the famous incident of the Nightmare that came before Christmas. He wants to be Santa Claus so badly, he truly believes he is doing the honest thing of giving Santa a break from his yearly trip around the world. So instead he climbs into the sleigh his townfolk built, led by skeletal reindeer the local mad scientist created, and Jack’s own ghost dog who has a glowing nose (just like another famous animal who saved Christmas? I think so).


Mr. Skellington may have kidnapped Santa Claus and terrified the bejeesus out of children everywhere with his makeshift toys (example: a jack-in-the-box that laughs and chases after you) but his good intentions were there. He tried to spread joy the only way he knew how. He got his whole town sold on the idea that scaring people is not the only way to live. Jack may have ended up horrifying youth anyway, but again, that was never his intention.

Sally, the adorable, soft-spoken girl sewn together by the mad scientist, saves the day by saving Santa from the grasp of the sick bastard that is the Boogeyman. She also believes in something more than horror – love is her escape. She loves Jack and wants to save him from the people who are trying to bring him down as the human population discovers he is a fraud. Sally saves Jack. And in the end, even though Santa saved the day after Jack nearly ruined it, Sally still loves him. They are redeemed in the end by being different and wanting more, and love is their escape from their Nightmare of an existence.

If the themes of love, spreading joy, and wanting more out of life than a simple, selfish existence don’t scream Christmas than obviously you need to watch more Christmas specials. Jack learned how to give out of love (even though it went slightly awry), he wanted to spread joy to his hellish Halloweentown, and finally, ended up in the arms of someone he loves, because, isn’t spending time with loved ones what Christmas is truly about?


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About Rachel Ganzewinkel

Rachel loves movies and writing and has found the perfect amalgamation in writing movie reviews for We Eat Films. In between movie watching and the real-life world of work, she enjoys tea, reading, writing, and wearing over-size sweaters (while occassionally doing some of these simultaneously).

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