It may not be the most conventional Christmas movie but The Nightmare Before Christmas is one of my favorites that helps me get into the Christmas spirit. The story is about a skeleton man named Jack who lives in a town where it is Halloween all the time. The townspeople are full of iconic monsters and creepy creatures that love everything scary and dark. Jack is admired and loved by all for his ability to be scary. They crown him the pumpkin king every year on Halloween and he basically is the town celebrity.
Jack has everything, yet something is missing. All that he has does not satisfy. After all the Halloween celebrations are through, he sings a song called Jack’s Lament where he admits the empty feeling he has despite his seemingly perfect life.
“But who here would ever understand that the Pumpkin King with the skeleton grin would tire of his crown, if they only understood he’d give it all up if he only could. Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown, the fame and praise come year after year does nothing for these empty tears”
He eventually stumbles upon these doorways in the woods that lead to different towns focused on a certain holiday. He enters the entrance into Christmas Town where it is Christmas all the time. When he discovers Christmas he finally feels his emptiness being filled. He is changed and wants to share the good news of Christmas with everyone. But he doesn’t quite understand it. When he goes back home he isn’t able to bring the same experience to his friends. He becomes obsessed with trying to replicate Christmas. He studies everything about the holiday, even comically running experiments on ornaments and toys. He almost ruins all of Christmas in the process because of his obsession and frustration with failure.
His experience changes his life and motivates him to do whatever it takes to have and share Christmas. What makes Christmas so impactful for him?
“The sights, the sounds they’re everywhere and all around. I‘ve never felt so good before this empty place inside of me is filling up. I simply cannot get enough. I want it, oh, I want it Oh, I want it for my own. I’ve got to know, I’ve got to know. What is this place that I have found? What is this?”
–What is This
Even as a Christian I sometimes struggle to keep up with the desire to celebrate Christmas. Even when it is focused on what it really should be about (Jesus), I find myself dreading the season.
Maybe you’re like me and get overwhelmed or annoyed by the commercialism and extra burdens that come around this time of year. Maybe it is a hard time for you and you can’t seem to find much celebrate about. Or maybe you adore Christmas; the lights, food, and the warm and loving family moments. Either way, Christmas will never impact you in the way it should unless you recognize something.
Christmas affected Jack the way it did because of the nightmare that he experienced beforehand. All Jack knew was darkness and it was that darkness that made him realize the wonder of light and love. He gives everything to have it but he was missing what made Christmas what it is (the movie never takes us to this point): Jesus. Christmas is about the light (Jesus) coming into the world and overcoming darkness.
Some time ago I realized why the miracle of Christmas sometimes didn’t touch my heart in the way it should have. It wasn’t because I didn’t know Jesus or that I wasn’t making him the “reason for the season.” It was because I didn’t fully grasp, experience, or reflect on the darkness that was there before he came. The darkness that exists before we know him, before we are saved by his redeeming love and grace. If we don’t see the nightmare before Christmas, we can’t experience its fullness and power. If we don’t see that that Jesus is the light that has come to save us from darkness, then Christmas becomes empty and every feeble attempt to celebrate with lights, decorations, gifts, and loved ones eventually becomes meaningless.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it… The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.” -John 1:1-5; 1:9
Jack never discovers what makes Christmas so special but he knows that there is something real that goes deeper than all of the things we think makeup Christmas.
“I’ve read these Christmas books so many times. I know the stories and I know the rhymes. I know the Christmas carols all by heart. My skull’s so full, it’s tearing me apart. As often as I’ve read them, something’s wrong. So hard to put my bony finger on. Or perhaps it’s really not as deep as I’ve been led to think. Am I trying much too hard? Of course! I’ve been too close to see. The answer’s right in front of me. Right in front of me:
It’s simple really, very clear
Like music drifting in the air
Invisible, but everywhere
Just because I cannot see it
Doesn’t mean I can’t believe it”