Originally posted on December 24, 2009
Every Christmas, it seems, I'm on the search for stories or movies that contain the true meaning of Christmas. Last year, I remember exploring the various incarnations of Dickens' "The Christmas Carol" and the Peanuts' "Christmas Special." This year, however, I have an unlikely candidate.
The Nightmare Before Christmas (written and produced by Tim Burton, directed by Henry Sellick) was based on one of Tim Burton's poems. A quick summary for those of you who've never seen it: the movie centers around Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, who rules Halloweentown--the origin and apotheosis of the holiday of Halloween. Jack, however, is becoming bored with his own holiday, feeling that he's done all that he can, that there are no further heights to reach. The morning after Halloween, he stumbles upon a doorway to Christmastown at the North Pole. The concept of Christmas puzzles and fascinates Jack. Jack Skellington:
[singing] There's children throwing snowballs / instead of throwing heads / they're busy building toys / and absolutely no one's dead!
He tries to explain the concept of Christmas to the residents of Halloweentown--to the witches, goblins, vampires and monsters that serve him--but it goes over their heads. Jack Skellington
: We pick up an oversized sock, and hang it like this on the wall... Mr. Hyde
: Oh, yes! Does it still have a foot? Smaller Mr. Hyde
: Let me see, let me look. Smallest Mr. Hyde
: Is it rotted and covered with gook?
Jack decides that Halloweentown will put on Christmas this year, but it all goes horribly wrong. What he intends as a relaxing year off for "Santy Claws" becomes a near-fatal kidnapping; children get severed heads or homicidal toys in their stockings. Christmas becomes an occasion of fear, a Halloween clone. In the end, the only way Jack can put things right is by giving up the metaphorical reins, turning Christmas back over to its original owners. No matter how much he wants to, Jack cannot run Christmas.Jack Skellington
: Forgive me, Mr. Claus. I'm afraid I've made a terrible mess of your holiday.
You may be asking me at this point: what does this have to do with the true meaning of Christmas as Christians understand it?
Understand, in the Christian story cycle, God created humanity in perfection, in his own image. But humanity fell, and the imago dei
within us became marred, we lost our perfection.
Now, as fallen creatures, we might still witness perfection or beauty or goodness. Quite often we become fascinated by it, entranced by it, even obsessed with it. But we cannot replicate it. We cannot reproduce it. No amount of trying on our part can cause perfection or even lasting happiness. Much like Jack Skellington, we become entranced by that which is not in our nature, but our every effort to participate in it comes only to ruin and failure."I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing... Those controlled by the sinful
nature cannot please God."
--Paul of Tarsus"For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want..."
--Paul of Tarsus
Life was indeed a nightmare before Christmas.
But we weren't forever consigned to that fate. I always think of that scene from the movie "Amistad
," where the one imprisoned African is figuring out the story of the Bible by looking at the illustrations. "Their people have suffered more than ours. Their lives were full of suffering; then he was born and everything changed."
Christmas--Christ's birth--was the beginning of everything changing. Infinite God impossibly tabernacled himself in finite flesh, inconceivably became human, and nothing would be the same again. For the nativity leads to the cross. This God-as-man would age and die, and in dying, shatter both the power of death and the hold of our own nature over us.
What we could not accomplish on our own, He accomplishes, when we return the reins to him.Jack Skellington
: I hope there's still time. Santa
: To fix Christmas? Of course there is!"...through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do (in that it was weakened by the sinful nature), God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering."
--Paul of Tarsus"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."
--Paul of Tarsus
The story of Jack Skellington is, from one perspective, our own story--one of seeking that which is against our nature, and only achieving it through surrender. And that, ultimately, is the true (or, at least, original) meaning of Christmas.Do you see the connection between the movie and the story of Christmas? What do you think of it? What do you understand to be the true meaning of Christmas?