News

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

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