The Nightmare Before Christmas is NOT a Halloween Movie

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Issue 4, Volume 111

By Asa Muhammad 

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“The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a beloved holiday classic—but for which holiday is a contentious matter. I’m here to resolve any confusion you may have. “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is definitively a Christmas movie. This may seem confusing to some of you. Yes, the protagonist is literally the Pumpkin King. Yes, he lives in Halloween Town. This is the first reason why the film is not a Halloween movie. Halloween Town and the Pumpkin King are the status quo of this movie, meaning Halloween is the norm. You don’t judge a movie by its norm. Christmas, however, is an event—one that is central to the plot of the movie. This deviation from the norm is what defines this movie. The nightmare when? The nightmare before Christmas. The character arcs and conflict of the story all surround Christmas.

Another argument is the time of the movie in the human realm, which is Christmas Eve, as seen when Jack Skellington arrives to give his “gifts” to the world. The definition of a Christmas movie is relatively loose when it comes to movies that take place on or around Christmas. The most famous example is “Die Hard” (1988), but to keep this as close to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” as possible, we’ll establish a precedent with “Batman Returns” (1992). “Batman Returns” is another gothic Tim Burton film scored by Danny Elfman, and it just so happens to be a Christmas movie as well. Despite releasing on June 16, 1992, the backdrop of Christmas is ever-present in the film, an important precedent for “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

The main source of confusion surrounding “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is that it was released on October 13, 1993. It’s uncommon that a Christmas movie is released during the height of spooky season, and the gothic nature and overall Tim Burton-ness of the film didn’t fit well with traditional American notions of Christmas, so it was marketed as a Halloween movie. Even then, the film was genius, giving the audiences a pretense of Halloween, establishing a spooky setting that the viewer could relate to. In doing so, the audience was better able to relate to Jack Skellington and his journey to understanding the Christmas spirit, and that’s what makes “The Nightmare Before Christmas” a subversive masterpiece.