This article is part of The Daly Planet Presents: The Twelve Days Of Christmas Movies, a daily series leading up to Christmas Eve 2015. To see all other entries click here.
I don’t like summer camps. I never liked pep rallies. And I certainly, for the most part, don’t care for Christmas. Each displays what I consider the most odious of tendencies—forced fun. “Let’s all get together and play capture the flag! Let’s all Clap Together and Root for the High School team! Let’s all sit around together and pretend we like each other, when in fact, we secretly loathe one another, and relish the moment our time together is complete!” Forced fun is not a good will effort to make sure everyone’s having a grand ole time; it’s a method of control. Dante, if alive, would have made a special circle of hell for camp counselors and cruise ship directors. Sit here, smile here. Any deviations from the norm should be rejected. You don’t like Christmas? You’re just a silly Grinch—quick, get him! Shout him down, he’s an idiot, he doesn’t know anything. We’ve always been at war with Eastasia. Conform, obey—or else. All hail the glorious red king, The Sandy Claws.
Caroling, sleigh rides, long walks down winding lanes, gentle snow falling on apple-cheeked little ones, knowing looks and embraces between newly married couples—these farces make me queasy. All of these Christmas constructions are just that—manufactured forced fun at the sake of reality. No one’s life is like that; no one could ever hope to live up to the marketing industrial complex that drives the rampant consumerism on a holiday predicated on the idea of helping one’s fellow man, charity, and modesty. Christmas is hypocrisy made manifest, an ethical morass that is best avoided. Black Friday and now, thanks to our own insatiable greed and insecurity, Thanksgiving, point to the ugliness of the season. Nothing says charity and good will towards men like forcing a worker to leave his family to go to a minimum wage job on the one universally understood holiday for “giving thanks for the shit you already have” so we can attempt to buy more things for yet another holiday that is supposed to be about charity. ‘Tis the season, I guess. If I had my way, I’d sit in the corner of a dark bar, drinking scotch, watching NBA basketball until the whole damn thing was over. I’ve felt this way for a long time, always out of place and uncertain why I was the only one who could see the problems with Christmas. It took an odd movie to crystallize my feelings on this damned holiday.
Every year, I watch The Nightmare Before Christmas. “But wait a minute,” you quickly retort, “That’s a HALLOWEEN movie, dummy. I like Christmas, and your writing is stupid anyway.” While that may be true, my writing is stupid, but the entirety of the movie is centered around Christmas, the main conflict and tension resolution is on December 24th, and Christmas is in the title. Furthermore, Santa is in it.
What the The Nightmare Before Christmas offers is a realistic portrait of what Christmas means to a vast majority of people—despite your best efforts, you’re just going to ruin everything. This is a theme that’s revisited over and over again around the Holiday—the National Lampoon movie is a prime example. This obsession with expectations vs. reality dominates the holiday; the false belief that if someone just works hard enough and wants it bad enough, they can have the storybook Christmas we were all brainwashed to believe exist—somewhere. It doesn’t, and The Nightmare Before Christmas points a big finger at this hypocrisy. Our title character, Jack the Pumpkin King, falls woefully short of his goal to remake the holiday, actively doing harm through his desire to be someone who he definitely is not. His realm is Halloween, and the resolution of the story ends with his understanding that he has no business dealing with the whole red and green mess. For someone like me who never feels the “magic of the season,” this comes as a relief. It’s validation for being different. Not everyone must partake in the false/forced fun of the season, and there’s nothing wrong with not liking Christmas.
What The Nightmare Before Christmas does reinforce is the idea that it’s okay to be different, and there’s nothing wrong with being who you are. Santa Claus is best left delivering toys, Jack is best at scaring people, and each must do their part in the great pantheon of Holidays. Without darkness, there can be no light. Technically, the film is a masterwork of claymation, and the obvious callback to the racist, sexist, and homophobic Christmas treasures from yester-year is obvious. Be an educated adult and try to watch the claymation Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer without uncomfortably wincing. Furthermore, there is no Christmas carol that rivals Danny Elfman’s songs and orchestration, and the story hits all of the emotional notes in any movie, let alone one within the constraints of the “Christmas Movie”. It’s funny; it’s sad, and ultimately, it’s heartwarming. Jack and Santa return to their respective lands; everything is back in order.
The overall message of The Nightmare Before Christmas is that there is nothing wrong with you. It’s okay to be different, and sometimes you just have to find your niche of weirdos to be weird with. For a Christmas agnostic such as myself, this feels good. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a movie of inclusion, of celebrating what makes us different, and through our differences, better. That’s a Christmas message I can get behind, and one, I imagine, that is truer to the spirit of the holiday.