The Nightmare Before Christmas begins like a legend. Multiple doors and the announcer voice set the audience up for a fable. These simple initial images already prepare the audience for some kind of legend that is relevant to our culture: both Christmas and Halloween. This entire story is about the discovery, implementation, and retraction of a different culture.
Historically, when someone discovers a new land, they try to impose their own culture on the inhabitants. People thought the Americas were a savage place which they needed to tame. However, Jack does something entirely different. When he goes to Christmas Town, he takes what he finds back to Halloween Town instead of imposing Halloween on the elves and Santa.
Although he wants desperately to bring something new and exciting to his world, he simply cannot understand it. He does everything he can to comprehend “this Christmas thing”. He uses books, logic, science, and math; even being immersed in the culture both in Christmas Town and in his own house does not help him to understand the magic of Christmas. It turns into a kind of religion for him. He even says, “Just because I cannot see it doesn’t mean I can’t believe it”. This is the important thing behind religion, right? You have to believe something you cannot see and touch, also the rule behind Santa Claus and the North Pole.
The reason he cannot completely wrap his head around Christmas is because he is a creature of Halloween. The two are polar opposites. One is for scaring children and the other for making them happy. He cannot understand the magic of Christmas because he has his own magic: scaring people. When he tries to make the paper snowflake, he makes a spider. When he asks Dr. Finklestein to make reindeer, he makes them successfully, although they are skeletons. They even fly! Halloween Town has its own magic.
Even the beauty that Sally brings to him in the jar still seems dark. The butterfly she sends him is grey and made of smoke, nothing like a real, colorful butterfly. The beauty and magic in Halloween town is dark. How can Jack expect to force something as magical and beautiful as Christmas on to it?
Jack is twisting the culture of Christmas into something scary so he can live in it. Santa Claus even becomes “Santy Claws”. It takes being shot out of the sky before he realizes that he was not supposed to do this. Christmas is a culture he cannot understand and adopt. He has Halloween. Christmas is for the real Santa Claus.
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