Is ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ a Christmas Movie or a Halloween Movie?

Kayleigh Roberts
·6 mins read
Photo credit: Disney
Photo credit: Disney

From Cosmopolitan

Usually, it’s pretty easy to tell which holiday a movie is celebrating. First of all, it generally takes place during said holiday and the characters usually celebrate or at least mention said holiday during the movie. Sure, there are exceptions to this rule, but usually the debate is whether or not the movie in question qualifies as a holiday movie at all.

Take Die Hard, for example. The 1988 action classic takes place on Christmas Eve at a company holiday party, and characters certainly celebrate and otherwise make note of the special day during which the film’s action is set, but there are many who don’t consider the movie to truly count as a Christmas movie, mostly because there are significantly more explosions and violent deaths than outright acts of holiday spirit.

When it comes to debatable holiday movies, however, there is one film that’s in a category all its own: The Nightmare Before Christmas. Why? Well, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who has seen it and doesn’t believe that the stop-motion classic isn’t a holiday movie. But there remains a great deal of debate among fans about which holiday it celebrates: Christmas or Halloween. This is due to the film’s plot, which revolves around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town and patron spirit of Halloween, who decides he’s fed up with that year-round All Hallow’s Eve life and hatches a scheme to kidnap Santa Claus and take over Christmas (with the help of the rest of the residents of Halloween Town, of course).

It’s a debate that’s divided people IRL and on Twitter for years now:

Here, we’re going to break down the arguments on both sides of the debate in an attempt to settle things once and for all.

All the evidence that The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Christmas movie:

If you’re on #TeamChristmas, the best piece of evidence in your favor is definitely the film’s overall spirit.

The characters in The Nightmare Before Christmas are deeply affected and moved by the Christmas spirit...even if they don't totally understand the traditional version of the Christmas spirit.

The real driving story of The Nightmare Before Christmas is the Halloween Town characters’ obsession with Christmas and discovery of the Christmas spirit. Many argue that this means, thematically speaking, it’s definitely a Christmas movie.

The movie is set primarily during the Christmas season.

The setting (time-wise—more on other kinds of settings in the film below, in the Team Halloween movie section) is very Christmassy. The movie takes place during the time between Halloween and Christmas, meaning most of the action actually occurs during November (a fact some contrarians have latched on to and used to declare it…wait for it…a Thanksgiving movie). But people on Team Christmas are quick to point out that the real heart of the story goes down on Christmas Eve, which they argue makes it firmly a Christmas movie.

All the evidence that The Nightmare Before Christmas is a Halloween movie:

The most common pieces of evidence given by members of #TeamHalloween are the physical setting and the characters who star in the film.

Namely, most of the movie takes place in Halloween Town and the Halloween Town residents are undeniably the stars (and heart) of the film.

The movie’s release date also supports Team Halloween.

The movie was originally released in theaters on October 29, 1993—just in time for Halloween but well ahead of the Christmas movie season (which typically kicks into high gear in mid-November).

The people who made The Nightmare Before Christmas tend to consider it a Halloween movie.

If you’re on the Team Halloween Movie side of the debate, you’re in good company because multiple people involved in actually making the movie have gone public in recent years proclaiming the classic a Halloween movie.

Danny Elfman, the film’s composer, has even gone on the record calling it a Halloween movie.

During a 2019 interview with USA Today, Elfman made his stance on the movie’s true holiday spirit very clear, explaining:

“It’s obviously about Christmas, but for me, it’s a Halloween movie. Growing up, Halloween was my favorite night of the year and Christmas was a troublesome time. Into my adult years, it was a time where a bit of a dark cloud would follow me around—probably carrying over from my childhood until I had my own kids—and then I developed a new, brighter view of Christmas.

“I also felt very close to Jack Skellington’s plight because I knew what it was like to be the king of my own little world and to want out of that world and want something else. So I felt very close to the holiday of Halloween but also very close to Jack and what he was going through.”

Henry Selick, the movie’s director, also says it’s a Halloween movie.

This is perhaps the strongest argument that The Nightmare Before Christmas is, in fact, a Halloween movie.

“Oh, boy,” Selick replied when asked about the movie’s holiday status during a 2015 Q&A at Colorado’s Telluride Horror Show film festival. “It’s a Halloween movie.”

Of course, there will always be people who insist it’s both a Christmas and a Halloween movie:

Or who take controversial stances and rile up both sides of the debate:

But the most important takeaway? The Nightmare Before Christmas is whatever kind of movie it puts you in the holiday spirit for…and it’s a great movie to watch any time of year, TBH.

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