“They’ve got a little tree – how queer!”
BY ELEANOR NOYCE, IMAGE VIA IMDB
As many households do, my family have their own festive traditions. In the UK, placing a star on top of the Christmas tree, roasting chestnuts by the fire, or baking a gingerbread house often take centre stage, with the typical festive entertainment largely consisting of the likes of Home Alone, Elf and How The Grinch Stole Christmas. Each are warm familiarities common in British households.
And yet, in my family, we have one extra tradition. Religiously adhered to each and every year, a viewing of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas has been mandatory in my family since I was three. Bravely introducing me to this unique adventure when I was a toddler, my dad wasn’t sure if I’d like it. Tim Burton defies convention, and his cinematic techniques are often written off as “too wacky”, even for some adults. Nevertheless, I lapped it up with enthusiasm, returning to it each and every year.
Growing up, I struggled to find my place. Coming out as queer at 17 was liberating: after years of confusion, I finally understood that my feelings for girls weren’t “weird”. There were other people like me, and yet, for years I’d felt like an outsider. The Nightmare Before Christmas, with all its eccentric imagery and references to rebellion, was a queer home for me before I even realised I was queer: not one of its characters is “normal”, and I found solace in that.
In many ways, The Nightmare Before Christmas speaks to defiance. Released in 1993, it rejected all conventions of traditional children’s films with its spooky, dark undertones, and has retained its cultural relevance for many queer adults. Watching Jack Skellington bubble over with excitement as he uncovered new ground in Christmas Town, proclaiming “How queer!” as he discovered presents, trees and elves alike, had a unique meaning for me. For the first time in my life, I understood that it was okay to be different.
Importantly, The Nightmare Before Christmas is much more existential than first meets the eye, exploring questions of identity and alternative, forbidden love. As the “Pumpkin King”, Jack Skellington has encountered an identity crisis: year after year, he reissues the same Halloween performance, much to the adoration of his peers. A celebrity in Halloween Town, he’s praised as the golden boy, so when he wanders off one night, its population instantly goes into panic mode. Disillusioned with his existence, he begins to question his existence, exploring the world of Christmas Town to great delight. His identity is in flux.
It is through this exploration that he is able to realise his love for Sally, a humanoid ragdoll created by the revered Dr. Finkelstein. Comprised of various garments stitched together, she is a social outcast: resigned to the house, she sneaks out to social events and purposefully drugs her master so that she can escape. Jack, by contrast, is the opposite: celebrated by his community, he is at the top of the social ladder, and his eventual coupling with Sally speaks to forbidden love. Watching these acts of rebellion were affirming, speaking to an entire generation of LGBTQI children who have now grown into LGBTQI adults.
I’m not alone in my queer love for The Nightmare Before Christmas. Roxy identifies as pansexual and formed an instant connection with the Tim Burton classic at the age of eight. “It was miles away from the normal Disney films. I do enjoy a Disney Princess film, but they just never spoke to who I felt I was inside. The Nightmare Before Christmas fit with my personality”, Roxy states.
“There was something about the darkness and emo tones that just screamed queer to me. Feeling like an outsider, I was enchanted when I began to explore my sexuality – I felt like Jack walking into Christmas Town from Halloween Town. Everything was new, unseen, unheard and exciting”, they say. “For me, it’s the non-conformity. Jack’s emotional discovery aligns with queer kids exploring their gay identity – he’s exploring and trying to expand his consciousness outside of what he knows to be perceived as his ‘normal’ existence. Jack was having an identity crisis, just like I was”.
“When Jack performs, the people of Halloween Town praise him, but even as a kid, I could tell that Jack wasn’t happy. For me, this mirrored the reality of the heteronormativity I was living under – people celebrated me, but I felt internal unrest because I knew that the biggest, most important part of me was missing – unexplored, unloved, and uncultivated”, they conclude.
At 23, my love for The Nightmare Before Christmas is undying. Each year, I watch with the knowledge that it’s brought me to where I am now. If there’s one thing that Jack and Sally taught me, it’s that it’s okay to be different. It’s okay to be you.
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