A Christmas Nightmare

There's a new Christmas film in theaters today that will knock the visions of sugarplums right out of your children's heads. The movie is called The Nightmare Before Christmas, and it features fantasy creatures who cook up the festivities for various holidays throughout the year. But a Halloween character named Jack Skellington is not satisfied with his own holiday. He wants to try his hand at creating Christmas. Jack rounds up his assistants and takes over Christmas. But the fiendish little helpers don't quite have the knack. The toys they design are terrifying: demon-possessed dolls and vampire teddy bears. Jack delivers the ghoulish toys from house to house in a flying coffin. Ho ho ho. And a scary Christmas to you. This movie is definitely not for the squeamish. It's packed with macabre humor and occult imagery. But slipped in among the ghoulish pranks is a very serious theme. Throughout the movie, Jack Skellington is searching for the real meaning of Christmas. Like a child seeing it all for the first time, Jack examines the Christmas trappings-candy canes, presents, glowing trees-always asking, Is there any substance beneath the glitter? In the end, Jack decides the answer is no. In a scene rich with symbolism, he examines a shiny Christmas tree ornament-only to have it shatter in his hands. The message is that Christmas has become a shiny bauble, with no solid core of meaning. At the end of the movie, Jack turns his back on Christmas and goes home. The Nightmare Before Christmas is an unusual and troubling movie. Secular stories about the Christmas season typically have a sentimental, feel-good ending. But not this movie. It is relentlessly skeptical. Its theme is that if Christmas is only an empty tradition, then it is meaningless. This is nihilism for nine-year-olds. Nietzsche would have loved it. Back in the nineteenth century, the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche railed against people who think they can give up the spiritual core of Christianity while still holding on to the pleasant traditions that have grown up around it. Traditions like Christmas. The spiritual core of Christmas is the celebration of Christ's birth-God Himself entering this world to reconcile us to Himself. Christmas is the ultimate statement of divine love. Over the centuries, this core meaning came to be expressed in layers of ritual and tradition: Christmas carols, trees, and gifts. Today many Americans no longer believe the core meaning, yet they still cling to the glitter and glow, the warm traditions that connect them with Christmases past. Tim Burton, the producer of The Nightmare Before Christmas, is like a modern Nietzsche, grabbing people by the lapels and telling them that this empty shell of Christmas is meaningless. The Nightmare Before Christmas is a bizarre movie, and it won't be everyone's cup of Yuletide cheer. But at least it has the virtue of honesty. The purely secular version of Christmas is meaningless. And if Christians do not keep the spiritual meaning of the holidays alive, we are in danger of letting Christmas turn into a shiny bauble. One that could shatter in our hands.


Chuck Colson



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