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

Must read

The Evolution, Appeal, and Inevitability of Video Podcasts

In an age where digital content is available in so many different formats, it’s critical to not...

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 the debate is usually whether or not the movie in question qualifies as a holiday movie at all.

Take Iron Man 3, for example. The 2013 Marvel classic takes place around Christmastime as the film’s resident hero Robert Downey Jr. goes through a bit of an identity crisis surrounding the holiday. There’s holiday decor and lots of hot chocolate (and Disney+ even caused a significant uproar when it added it to the Christmas category), but few actually consider the movie a Christmas movie, mainly because there are significantly more villain fights, dangerous explosions, and Avenger deaths than any yuletide cheer. Unless that’s a typical Christmas at your house, we’ll go ahead and say that that’s not exactly in the holiday spirit.

Watch ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ on Disney+

Watch 'The Nightmare Before Christmas' on Disney+

Watch ‘The Nightmare Before Christmas’ on Disney+

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 the year-round All Hallow’s Eve life and hatches a scheme to kidnap Santa Claus and take over Christmas.

More From Cosmopolitan

preview for All Sections Playlist - Cosmopolitan US

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

So we’ve taken it upon ourselves to lay out both sides of the debate and settle this thing once and for all.

Everything that points to The Nightmare Before Christmas being 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 the discovery of the Christmas spirit. Many argue that this means, thematically speaking, it’s definitely a Christmas movie.

This content is imported from Giphy. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

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). I mean, there’s even a countdown to Christmas Day!

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.

Everything that points to The Nightmare Before Christmas being a Halloween movie:

Just because the film takes place around Christmastime doesn’t mean everyone thinks it’s meant to be a Christmas 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.

Even though Jack does take a bit of a detour to Christmas Town, he mostly spends the film bringing the traditions of Christmas to the spooky place where he’s from.

The movie has three songs in which the characters voice their confusion over Christmas traditions. Not very Christmas-spirit-y, if you ask me!

Christmas tends to be a pretty straightforward holiday, but we can also see why they wouldn’t get it if they’ve never experienced it before. Nonetheless, it just shows how very not-Christmas-y they are.

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: Multiple people involved in actually making the movie have gone public in recent years proclaiming the classic a Halloween movie.

This content is imported from Giphy. You may be able to find the same content in another format, or you may be able to find more information, at their web site.

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 those who take a completely different stance:

The Nightmare Before Christmas gives us a clue that it’s happening before Christmas. And what special holiday occurs then? Thanksgiving! And we honestly cannot imagine anything better than just eating turkey and watching one of the best “Hallomas” movies of all time right between two of the bigger holidays that it represents. There’s even a Thanksgiving Town in the movie, so it’s not like the big day doesn’t exist in this world!

But the most important takeaway? The Nightmare Before Christmas is whatever kind of movie it puts you in the holiday spirit for…and if that’s Thanksgiving, then so be it. It’s a great movie to watch any time of year, TBH. Even on Easter.

I mean, even the Easter Bunny makes an appearance, so we can also argue for that.

Headshot of Kayleigh Roberts

Kayleigh Roberts

Kayleigh Roberts is the weekend editor at Cosmo, focused on celebrity news and royals. She’s a Ravenclaw who would do great things in Slytherin. To learn more about her, google “Leslie Knope eating salad GIF.”

Headshot of Tamara Fuentes

Entertainment Editor

Tamara Fuentes is the current Entertainment Editor at Cosmopolitan, where she covers TV, movies, books, celebrities, and more. She can often be found in front of a screen fangirling about something new. Before joining Cosmopolitan, she was the entertainment editor over at Seventeen. She is also a member of the Television Critics Association and the Latino Entertainment Journalists Association. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram

More articles

Latest article

The Evolution, Appeal, and Inevitability of Video Podcasts

In an age where digital content is available in so many different formats, it’s critical to not...