Is The Nightmare Before Christmas A Christmas Movie or a Halloween Movie?

Tim Burton and Henry Selick's stop-motion animated classic is frequently watched in both October and December, but which holiday does it really represent?

by | December 14, 2018 | Comments

(Photo by Touchstone Pictures)

Back in 1982, when he was still working in Walt Disney’s animation studio, director Tim Burton penned a poem called The Nightmare Before Christmas, tapping into his lifelong fascination with the spirit of both Halloween and Christmas. But it wasn’t until 1993 that he got to see his passion project reach the big screen, with the help of fellow animator Henry Selick and frequent musical collaborator Danny Elfman. What emerged was a stop-motion animated holiday classic… but which holiday does it celebrate, exactly?

Splitting its time between the setting of Halloween Town and Christmas Town, with a narrative that finds a spooky skeletal hero kidnapping Santa Claus with the intent of taking his place, The Nightmare Before Christmas has been embraced just as much in the month of October as it has in December, leaving some fans to wonder exactly which of its two holidays the movie represents more. With that in mind, we present two arguments below — one explaining why it’s a Christmas movie and one in favor of Halloween — and leave the final decision up to you. Read on to see what our passionate RT staffers had to say, and then cast your vote in the poll below!

It’s a Christmas Movie

Touchstone Pictures

(Photo by Touchstone Pictures)

This shouldn’t even be a debate. It might be true that Jack Skellington, the so-called “Pumpkin King” and central hero of the story, is literally a walking skeleton who hails from a place called Halloween Town, and that the narrative primarily focuses on him and the other misguided citizens of Halloween Town, but their entire journey is centered on Christmas.

When Jack first stumbles into Christmas Town, he is so awestruck by the majesty of Christmas, so inpired by the glorious joy he witnesses, that he desperately wants to recreate it. In other words, he is essentially infected by Christmas spirit, which he can barely contain, and immediately returns to Halloween Town to spread holiday cheer and share what he’s witnessed. He decides he’s going to take over Christmas himself, and while his impulses are wildly inappropriate and fairly lump-of-coal-worthy, he actually assembles a team of reindeer (albeit reindeer skeletons), slaps on a red suit and fake beard, and flies around the world delivering presents!

Are his gifts horrific and disturbing? Oh yes, very much so. But that also plays into Christmas themes, as Jack acknowledges the gargantuan mess he’s created and returns to Halloween Town with a renewed sense of appreciation for his home. How many Christmas movies have hinged on the character transformation of someone who was self-obsessed witnessing the rotten fruits of their toxic ambition and coming to terms with their own faults?

To top it all off, Santa pulls a little last-minute flyby and blesses Halloween Town with its first winter snow, as if to say, “I know you guys are all about spooky shenanigans, but you know what? Merry Christmas.” Case closed.

It’s a Halloween Movie

Buena Vista Pictures courtesy Everett Collection

(Photo by Buena Vista Pictures courtesy Everett Collection)

The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie. Sure, there are Christmas elements, and maybe a large portion of the film is dedicated to Jack Skellington literally trying to scientifically discover the meaning of Christmas, but the protagonist’s’ name is also literally Jack Skellington. It primarily takes place in Halloween Town, not Christmas Town, and the dominant aesthetic is appropriately creepy. There’s a zombie child with his eyes sewn shut, for goodness sake. That’s not very Christmas-y.

Thematically it’s more Halloween than Christmas. While Christmas is a great opportunity to feel weird about yourself in family situations and learn the spirit of giving or whatever, Halloween is a holiday about acceptance. It’s about accepting death and celebrating life, while being open to the idea that there’s more beyond this mortal coil. It’s also about wearing costumes to be someone else for a night, and while that might sound like the opposite of self-acceptance, costumes are often a reflection of the wearer and can teach you things about yourself. Who wears a costume of something they hate? Almost no one.

Jack puts on the Santa suit (his costume) because he doesn’t want to be the Pumpkin King anymore; he wants to be something else. When his attempts to bring Christmas to the masses turn out to be horribly misguided, Jack musically soliloquies in a graveyard before realizing that he is exactly the person he is meant to be and that the coldness in his bones can’t be warmed by trying to be someone else. Being Santa for a night teaches Jack the virtues of being himself, like the year you wore heels as a part of your costume and realized how great your everyday decision to wear flats truly was.

Christmas has enough films. Horror movies aren’t suitable for younger audiences, and aside from Charlie Brown and Casper, there aren’t a lot of Halloween movie options for kids. As director Henry Selick said at the Telluride Horror Show Film Festival a few years ago, “It’s a Halloween movie.

Tag Cloud

X-Men Stephen King Tomatazos The Arrangement video italian screenings festival Masterpiece stoner First Look anime Super Bowl jurassic park mockumentary Nominations dogs 1990s foreign Mary Poppins Returns composers HBO jamie lee curtis cancelled television french reboot stop motion rt archives sag awards spanish language Baby Yoda football USA Film Festival rotten movies we love MSNBC Polls and Games hollywood emmy awards ratings sports black posters Opinion green book DGA Cartoon Network Awards Tour canceled psycho El Rey ABC Family Creative Arts Emmys Amazon Studios 2017 Star Trek dark GIFs comic comiccon ESPN japan boxing 45 worst movies live action Britbox Fox News Hear Us Out period drama saw Chernobyl laika comedies Martial Arts king arthur parents chucky 2018 Marvel Television criterion YouTube Red scene in color game show Spike Reality rotten HBO Max latino Turner Quiz canceled TV shows Nickelodeon suspense First Reviews Comedy Crunchyroll comics supernatural Captain marvel DC Universe Animation romance high school science fiction Pirates Comic Book Pop Arrowverse FX on Hulu trailers Shudder Certified Fresh Biopics LGBTQ television Winners debate rt labs critics edition ABC TIFF Comics on TV Marvel Studios Chilling Adventures of Sabrina Pacific Islander Superheroe DirecTV based on movie discovery OWN CBS WarnerMedia Tubi OneApp crime Musicals toy story dceu AMC Comedy Central 78th Annual Golden Globe Awards franchise police drama hispanic heritage month critics YouTube Premium toronto what to watch SXSW Columbia Pictures new star wars movies NBA technology Rocky Western 99% 24 frames Mudbound Christmas See It Skip It international strong female leads comic book movies Pet Sematary Film MCU Teen cooking Hulu a nightmare on elm street popular mcc 90s nfl Set visit free movies halloween zombie golden globes cults Emmy Nominations quibi Academy Awards Disney streaming service FX Pop TV A&E Apple festivals ITV Universal TruTV rt labs Lionsgate Women's History Month Ovation TV movies New York Comic Con GoT Classic Film President VICE wonder woman Family Star Wars CW Seed spy thriller Summer Bravo gangster kids Television Critics Association south america concert Netflix Christmas movies Song of Ice and Fire superman singing competition Fall TV Paramount aapi docuseries Syfy Disney Plus adenture fast and furious Trailer scorecard children's TV venice 20th Century Fox Mindy Kaling TCA Awards olympics National Geographic Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt sequel Black Mirror versus Endgame blockbuster Lucasfilm fresh TCA 2017 73rd Emmy Awards BBC zombies APB Hallmark Christmas movies 007 Interview thriller Warner Bros. talk show ABC Signature E3 Elton John universal monsters History Wes Anderson E! spinoff FOX hidden camera ID marvel cinematic universe monster movies name the review Extras Dark Horse Comics crime thriller Peacock Cannes TCA Winter 2020 Kids & Family Mystery spanish IFC Films blaxploitation Reality Competition harry potter sequels biopic theme song miniseries animated natural history japanese VOD LGBT stand-up comedy Sci-Fi Avengers cops VH1 dc Thanksgiving PaleyFest asian-american social media die hard dramedy action-comedy BBC America streaming movies hispanic elevated horror romantic comedy Sundance TV kaiju Spectrum Originals Grammys feel good Rock Marathons halloween tv book Marvel video on demand Disney transformers richard e. Grant spider-man Rocketman basketball mission: impossible TV renewals disaster films prank king kong psychological thriller PlayStation golden globe awards target Starz USA Network Premiere Dates serial killer historical drama American Society of Cinematographers Legendary nbcuniversal women dragons Box Office Lifetime Apple TV+ binge Tarantino SundanceTV Red Carpet marvel comics Walt Disney Pictures MTV Photos cats book adaptation scary movies Adult Swim San Diego Comic-Con obituary news WGN independent tv talk RT History space Vudu movies Sneak Peek child's play Brie Larson joker cartoon politics aliens 2019 The Academy Amazon teaser Music GLAAD indiana jones Mary Tyler Moore twilight anthology The Witch Trivia Trophy Talk 2020 TLC Discovery Channel witnail slashers Exclusive Video spain Acorn TV remakes 71st Emmy Awards Toys medical drama TNT zero dark thirty cancelled TV shows war Pride Month NYCC TCA Broadway Holidays Ellie Kemper Spring TV cancelled reviews razzies TV FXX Travel Channel crossover new york Showtime ViacomCBS DC Comics series cars Fantasy screen actors guild batman CNN directors all-time satire Hallmark Awards Disney+ Disney Plus Rom-Com robots 72 Emmy Awards godzilla Oscars Crackle Action HBO Go revenge Valentine's Day Year in Review Apple TV Plus Fox Searchlight Ghostbusters Amazon Prime 2016 boxoffice finale hist australia blockbusters Calendar royal family unscripted kong lord of the rings classics Anna Paquin indie BET Awards young adult political drama sitcom Sundance game of thrones Sundance Now vampires Alien nature mutant documentary Horror PBS Food Network YouTube Emmys Watching Series Best and Worst Lifetime Christmas movies worst Countdown 21st Century Fox adaptation Turner Classic Movies Epix TBS werewolf new zealand streaming documentaries Musical diversity casting Election Mary poppins cancelled TV series pirates of the caribbean breaking bad Paramount Network travel legend A24 Comic-Con@Home 2021 facebook The Walking Dead Freeform award winner comic book movie telelvision movie docudrama Country Nat Geo critic resources RT21 cinemax Schedule CBS All Access deadpool CMT comic books SDCC TV Land Paramount Plus james bond YA Heroines Pixar Podcast Esquire heist movie TCM dexter Tokyo Olympics know your critic 93rd Oscars Tumblr Disney Channel ghosts Image Comics The Purge Sony Pictures superhero Binge Guide Video Games BBC One true crime Shondaland TV One 2015 Amazon Prime Video doctor who biography The Walt Disney Company crime drama renewed TV shows Netflix slasher Black History Month Holiday Drama Winter TV The CW 2021 christmas movies adventure best BET Logo Superheroes justice league DC streaming service archives Cosplay BAFTA Infographic Funimation NBC Character Guide IFC rom-coms Television Academy 4/20 Writers Guild of America