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The Nightmare Before Christmas

I did not feel the Christmas spirit at all this year. I skipped past every Christmas song on the radio and didn’t watch a single Christmas movie. It was the same in 2020, which wasn’t all that surprising, because well, it was 2020. I remember being hopeful that Christmas 2021 would be more enjoyable and reminiscent of years past, but I never got that warm fuzzy feeling of Christmas joy. By the time the week before Christmas rolled around, I had just accepted that it wasn’t going to be a time of abundant glee for me.

But then, on our way to Christmas Eve service, we passed a house that had giant blow up decorations in their front yard. Instead of your traditional Santa, reindeer, or even Grinch, they had the characters from The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it piqued my interest.

I remember watching the movie as a kid. I remember liking it, but I haven’t seen it since. We’re talking easily 20 years here. So when I saw a giant Jack Skellington and Sally bowing in the wind, I decided I should give it a rewatch. Because for whatever reason, the idea of a skeleton wanting to hijack Christmas sounded like the perfect finale to a not so joyous holiday season.

‘Why not?’ I thought. ‘It can’t hurt.’ The film has a cult following, after all. There must be something to the story that I’m missing or couldn’t remember or maybe didn’t fully grasp at such a young age the first time I saw it.

Even still, I didn’t sit down and watch it right away. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I rang in the new year with a skeleton, vampires, some ghouls and witches, and a rag doll.

My initial reaction while watching was how beautiful the production value is. The attention to detail of every character: the way they look, the way they move, the way they sound.

My second reaction was the music. The score and the lyrics. The hauntingly beautiful way Jack expresses his longing for something more -- something so relatable even if you’re not the Pumpkin King.

I remember thinking how the film could perfectly lend itself to a Broadway play. The haunting nature of the music reminded me of Phantom of the Opera.

Can you picture it? The front page of the Playbill showing the iconic outline of Jack on top of the hill in the graveyard with the moon as his backdrop. And can you see it? That same image on the stage while a powerhouse Broadway performer sings “Jack’s Lament” way above the crowd, the weight of his despair coming down on the audience.

I have learned that live action performances of the film have taken place but not giving it a chance at a run on Broadway seems like a missed opportunity.

Just imagine, the play opening as it does in the film. Halloween Town is celebrating another successful Halloween night, but this time, the characters, decked out in incredible make up and costume, are dancing and singing in the aisles, and screams are reverberating in the background as they make their way to the stage where they are to be greeted by the Pumpkin King himself.

And think about this. The stage production that would come with showing the dichotomy between Halloween Town and Christmas Town as they both prepare for Christmas in their own way. One dark and gloomy; the other bright and cheerful but on the same stage with Jack weaving back-and-forth between the two. And how amazing would it be to experience the horror of a hijacked Christmas. Haunted toys encroaching on the audience while terrified families run up and down the aisles. Can you hear the breaking news reports blaring from speakers way up in the rafters to make you feel as if you are really there – that Christmas is under attack.

And, of course, the moment Jack is shot out of the sky and tumbles to the ground. Now, I’m not an engineer, so I have no idea how you would make that work, but it would be the ultimate climax to the heart racing action taking place on stage.

I would go see that in a heartbeat.

But moving past a hypothetical Broadway play, there’s still the emotional pull of the story -- Jack’s “why” for his desire to take over Christmas. Nightmare Before Christmas may be a fictional world, but the theme of unsettledness is felt by so many at some point in our lives.

“An emptiness began to grow. There’s something out there far from home; a longing that I’ve never known.”

Despite being the best at his job, Jack is burnt out on Halloween. The redundancy has become too much to bear, and he can’t help but feel that he is capable of so much more.

“He would give it all up if he only could.”

To add to his pain, he doesn’t think anyone else understands the way that he feels. While the rest of town is celebrating and elated to plan for the next year, Jack is out on an island trying to decipher his emotions and what he actually wants. The fame and accolades do nothing “for these empty tears.”

He knows something is missing but he can’t place what it is, and he doesn’t think there’s anyone around he can try to explain it to.

“Oh, there’s an empty place in my bones that calls out for something unknown.”

How many of us have wanted to start over? To take a leap of faith and give up everything we’ve ever known. We know it’s risky, but the unrelenting pull at our hearts can become almost suffocating, so we’re willing to take the chance at failure to at least say we tried and took a shot at our wildest dreams.

I’ve been there – I’m still there – and I’m willing to take the risk.

Overall, I don’t think I’ll be joining the cult-like nature of The Nightmare Before Christmas; however, I did still enjoy it as much as I remembered I did. And I can’t predict how entrenched in the holiday spirit I will be for Christmas 2022, but at least I know I’m not the only one.

So, Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night.

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