The Hidden Spirituality of Nightmare Before Christmas

hidden spirituality video Dec 03, 2020

Is it just me...or is there a distinct lack of great staple Halloween-holiday movies? I mean, sure, we have stuff like Hocus Pocus or the creepy cacophony of horror movies like the Exorcist or the Conjuring to watch while hiding under our blankets and stuffing our faces with candy… I mean… Grapes, and other healthy snacks… But what’s the Spooktober equivalent of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life? ….CUE the Pumpkin King. Ack, but even then, it’s like… this is more of a November movie. What with it being like a smashup betwixt Halloween and Christmas? Anyways, I’m a sucker for Tim Burton and the music of Danny Elfman. When you combine it with Christmas cheer and Halloween gothic macabre, you get one of the most ambitious crossovers since I mixed my orange and apple juice that one time. A Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t just a holiday favorite. It’s a stop motion masterpiece filled with spiritual lore and depth that speaks to Dharma's Vedic concepts, self-love, and coming to terms with your highest and authentic self. So… since covid is coming in for another wave while Biden miraculously comes out with a vaccine the day he’s elected, let’s have a mashup of our own by mixing last month and next month's holidays into the present moment and jump into some spirituality!

So look, this movie is a legend, and it also came out in 1993 - so we’re going to skip the summation and jump straight into the hidden meaning. If you haven’t seen it yet, well, you’re nearly 30 years late to the party, but here's your obligatory spoiler warning.

 Subtly echoed in the overall narrative of this film is the Indo-Tibetan concept of Dharma. The wide-ranging belief that every organism has a role to play in a well-ordered cosmos and must play that role and no other, including our duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues, and "right way of living." Throughout the film, Jack discovers that as wonderful a thing as Christmas is, it is not his thing. He isn’t good at it. It’s not something in accordance with his natural flow... But more importantly, there’s an idea that he can’t give up who he is for who he wants to be. He’s confronted with the fact that he has to discover the inherent value of who he is instead of trying to be something else just because it’s apparently “good” or better. 

 This may be one of the most powerful truths of this movie. The fact that something is a good thing–whether it is Christmas, a loving nature, or pretty much anything else–doesn’t mean that it is the only good thing. Adding to this is the idea that other things that strike us as scary or deeply uncomfortable can be good too, and this idea is mirrored in the sets. One could argue that Halloweentown and its inhabitants represent the darker or shadow aspects of ourselves, the parts of our being that are seemingly negative and often “scary” to us. Conversely, Christmastown is reminiscent of all the beneficial elements. Much like Yin and Yang, the two towns act as reflections of each other, helping to balance the world they’re in.

When these holidays interact with our world, we embrace them in their appropriate set and setting. But it’s when people expect Christmas and get Halloween that things go haywire… perhaps if each town represents our inner natures, there’s an idea we can take from this about how when our light side and dark side cross into each other, they can cause us some confusion and chaos. Yet, in the end, it’s through that interaction that we grow and learn, and these aspects augment their original power and balance. They learn about each other, discover ways to coexist peacefully, each part of ourselves respecting the other, and their part of the whole.

The challenge arises when Jack feels he’s mastered Halloweentown, his current domain. It’s not just boredom he’s feeling...if you listen to his lament at the beginning, his sentiment echoes one I’m sure most of us on a spiritual path have thought at some point, a yearning for something more significant than the world he’s currently in. His rendition of “Oh, somewhere deep inside of these bones, an emptiness began to grow, there’s something out there, far from home, a longing that I’ve never known” is reminiscent of C.S Lewis’ Mere Christianity “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another one.”

 What’s funny is that Jack is basically like a king in his domain. He’s got it all, he’s the boss of Halloween, but all the acclaim and vindication he gets feels hollow in comparison to his inner search for meaning. Ultimately, his inner knowing that something greater is out there isn’t one that material pleasure can satisfy; it’s spiritual. Something that is seemingly echoed in his little song when he reaches Christmastown, his own Hall of Amenti..he states, “And in my bones, I feel a warmth that’s coming from inside...This empty place inside of me is filling up”. 

When Jack finds Christmastown, he is fascinated with this new world's innocence and solace and recognizes that this is what he was being called to experience….Something that is interestingly reminiscent of many people’s first Astral Travel experiences. Funnily enough, his first approach is to study it scientifically and lock himself away in his tower, to find the “Christmas feeling” inside objects. Much like trying to find a feeling or aspect of consciousness within the brain, this approach fails. It points to how the mechanistic approach to the psyche has been unsuccessful in explaining the phenomena arising from brain region correlations. Jack sings, "But what does it all mean?” as he tries to understand an experience, not a thing. And yet, ironically, he’s studying *things* trying to find meaning. He ultimately concludes that "just because I cannot see it doesn't mean I can't believe it." 

After Santa is kidnapped, that’s when things start to go down hill...and interestingly, Sally, the rag doll woman who is crushing on Jack, actually has a vision that it’s all going to go wrong. Still, Jack is so blinded by his lust for new experiences that he ignores her. Wait a minute...the dichotomy between action and vision...masculine and feminine...feeling vs. action...sigh...this whole Sacred Masculine/Divine feminine thing is getting easier to spot. 

Sally embodies the feminine quite well; she’s wise, understanding, loving, intuitive, and even seemingly taps into the Source to see a future outcome. She loves Jack even before his failed Christmas fiasco, but is primarily locked away -symbolically and physically later on by Oogie Boogie, and also goes often ignored, but is a figure who is ultimately a guiding force and can see the higher perspective of things. Yep, she checks all the boxes for how the divine feminine has appeared in our world… Jack, her counterpart who embodies the Sacred Masculine, and maybe a bit of the King archetype at times - is a leader, has direction, and takes action and initiative. He takes care of his people, and his people help him follow his dreams… No matter how misguided. Albeit, as we explored, he can be stubborn, and when the two can’t work together or largely ignore each other, the natural order is upset, and things descend into Chaos. 

And I mean proper Chaos… worldwide panic erupts as children encounter their scary presents, and the armies of the world shoot Jack and his sleigh out of the sky...he’s immortal though, so it’s no biggie. But as he falls into the arms of a Graveyard Angel. This probably signifies his spiritual death pending rebirth as his plans failed and he must evolve his consciousness to move forward; as soon after, he finally sees his blindness, coming to the understanding that he is meant to be the Pumpkin King and will carry out that role even better next year. After Jack’s failed attempt to do Christmas himself, both towns come to appreciate their differences and the good things each holiday has to offer. Jack’s attempts at Christmas were directed mainly toward the symbols and visible elements of the holiday. When he got around to pursuing the real, more profound meaning of it, his search was utterly clouded by his selfishness and perspective of trying to incorporate what he was already familiar with…

In a way, it is kind of like religious syncretism. Jack tries to practice Christmas and Halloween simultaneously. Doing so stays loyal to neither, showing us the dangers of artificially trying to combine cultures and beliefs without fully understanding them both... Despite his endeavor's colossal failure, Jack still sees the value of having experienced everything and regrets nothing. He learns the lesson instead of feeling sorry for himself and dwelling in self-hatred. He is happy he tried and put himself out there, and goes into making things right, even after his mistake, seemingly coming more into alignment with his true self in the process, and eventually finds a renewed love of his role.

It’s also interesting that our hero is flawed and comes from the seemingly “dark” side of things. Even though we all love Jack, he’s an Evil Lord type...and yet, this approach serves to humanize him and his town and what they represent, allowing us to understand where the darker characters and attributes are coming from, see the light in them as well. It teaches that darkness also has some value, and those who are born playing those darker roles in life are fulfilling their role in this life on earth. The Halloweentown’s people are all pretty supportive, caring, and collaborative with each other, not traits you usually associate with monsters and demons. Maybe there’s a lesson here that even the darker aspects of ourselves can still ultimately come from a place of love if we acknowledge their purpose and role in our experience.

After Oogie is unraveled like a ball of yarn, Santa sets off to make things right but leaves the residents of Halloweentown with a parting gift...making it snow, allowing all the residents to experience that same joy that Jack felt when experiencing Christmas for the first time, which in a way fulfills Jack’s original dream of genuinely understanding Christmas.

I’m sure there’s a part of this that speaks to experiencing things to truly understand them, rather than just being told about them by someone else. As he flies away, Santa shouts "Happy Halloween!" and Jack replies by yelling "Merry Christmas!" which is pretty funny, but also serves to show that each side has become more balanced and acknowledges the role each other plays in their world.

All in all, ANBC doesn't fit as a Christmas movie in the conventional sense, but it doesn’t work as a Halloween one either, which is really what makes it so great. It’s a part of both seasons and is itself a pretty balanced movie...which is so meta, I love it. What’s very curious here is that Jack makes the mistake of thinking his calling lies somewhere else, rather than where he already is. Yet, the longing within him for something more compelled him into this search and discovery of something new, even though it wasn’t meant for him to give, it was meant for him to receive. Though his intentions are good, he misses this critical point and nearly ruins himself and the holiday he has come to love. Yet through his failure, he realizes who he is from a different perspective. Perhaps there is an idea here that sometimes we also have to fail to discover who we are….and chances are, we often come back stronger and more in alignment with our goals every time we fall. After all, what is a failure but the opportunity to start over, only wiser? 

Until next time, it still kind of feels like October, but then again, this year has blended into one long continuous stream at this point, hasn’t it… So Happy Holidays for whatever season you’re in when you end up watching this video! Toodles.

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