OR The Nightmare Before Christmas
Like really, I thought of “noir” before nightmare… or even night?
Well, better late than never. A day after I was supposed to do N, I put on this movie to watch with my gal Friday and it just smacked me in the face.
I have heard Jack’s ennui well documented before, and some really good comparisons to modern day concerns over cultural appropriation. So I’m not going to do that exactly. Instead, I want to talk about all the errors that Jack Skellington makes to get him into the mess he’s in by the end.
N is for ennui
Let’s start by defining ennui, at least a little. It’s by definition something that’s hard to define. If you could define it precisely, well, then it would be something else.
According to Merriam-Webster, ennui is “a feeling of weariness and dissatisfaction : BOREDOM,” but it’s a specific, extended type of boredom. It’s not the kind that can be solved with a game of Catan. Ennui is the ultimate of stay-at-home-parent problems: when your life is so tedious that you just can’t deal with it. We need to face some unique challenges for a fulfilling life.
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Not that some people with jobs (especially office jobs, or those where they see the same things every day) can’t have ennui – Jack has a job, after all. And not that being a stay-at-home parent is boring in the traditional sense, since we rarely have any downtime. But many of us do have that longing for something more out of life, even when we know to our bones that we would never give it up.
That’s ennui. Having what you want, and yet being dissatisfied that you don’t have something else. Often, anything else. Jack wandered into Christmas Town, but it just as easily could’ve been Easter to the same effect.
1. Looking outward
Not surprisingly, Jack’s first mistake was searching outward for a cure to his ennui. If you’re just in a little funk because you’re stuck in your routine, then getting out and doing something different can help.
But if you’re dealing with the kind of dissatisfaction with what you’re doing with yourself that you’d “give it all up if [you] only could” then it’s time to look inward. Examine your feelings and sit with them – even the uncomfortable ones; practice gratitude; get plenty of rest. Find some specific tips from David Yarde on Medium.
2. Deciding to “help” without making sure it’s helpful
Jack just thinks that because he wants to do Christmas for himself, that Santa had better appreciate the help that’s offered without complaints. That’s how help works, right? It’s something that’s forced onto another person?
Wow is this ever another point parents can relate to… As soon as you get the pink line you’ve got people who think they can do your job better than you. As a babywearer, I can’t count the number of times I’ve been in public, trying to safely carry out the careful routine to get the baby on my back – which relies heavily on muscle memory – only to have a complete stranger come up and put hands on my baby and interrupt my flow, without even saying a word to me.
And then, it happens again when the kids get older. My gal Friday loves to help, and has no interest in seeing if it’s something I want or need to be done. At least with her it’s my responsibility to teach her the right way to offer help.
In both cases I appreciate that they’re just trying to help. But impact matters more than intent. Helping people is absolutely amazing, but always make sure you’re doing so in a way that is helpful to them. With new parents, for example, some people need help to do their laundry, some need someone to hold the baby so they can take a shower, and some just need someone to drop off a dinner and then leave. Ask which one they need! The wrong one may instead feel like an obligation which is the opposite of what you’re going for.
3. Trying to teach something he really doesn’t understand himself.
When Jack tries to bring Christmas back to the people of Halloween he has a major struggle making them understand the idea, because they’ve never experienced it themselves. Really this is where he should have kidnapped Santa (sarcasm) because he would have someone who could actually explain it.
I’m guilty of this myself. In fact everyone is to some degree. But this is exactly the thing I wanted to avoid with my Dia de Muertos post. I’m not from a culture who celebrates it. I’ve seen it and read about it, but that’s not the same thing. As someone with little-to-no personal experience, I didn’t think it was my place to explain the holiday to other people with little-to-no experience. Let’s leave it up to the experts – the people who actually celebrate it every year.
4. Divorcing the facts of Christmas from the feelings
When he can’t explain Christmas to his friends, Jack’s approach is to strip away everything but logic. The only thing is, that’s exactly his problem in the first place! It’s his problem with the people of Halloween Town – they can see the Christmas tree, the stockings, the presents. What they’re missing is the Christmas spirit. The joy, the harmony, the stress of finishing up all your shopping in time.
Additionally, it’s his problem from way back at the beginning. He began to have a little bit of discomfort and literally ran away from his feelings. That (plus a game of fetch) is how he ended up in Christmas Town in the first place.
Taking out all the emotion is the absolute very last thing Jack Skellington needs to do. He needs to practice some mindfulness, sit with his feelings, and ask himself what it is he actually needs to fill that hole. Not go run off and assume that the first thing he finds might as well be crammed in there.
5. “You know, I think this Christmas thing is not as tricky as it seems. And why should they have all the fun? It should belong to anyone. Not anyone, in fact, but me! Why, I could make a Christmas tree. And there’s no reason I can find I couldn’t handle Christmas time. I bet I could improve it too, and that’s exactly what I’ll do…“
I don’t feel like this one needs commentary.
I hope it doesn’t come off that I don’t like the movie – in fact, quite the opposite! None of these are even complaints about the movie. I think it’s done really well, and that Jack is even still sympathetic despite making nonstop mistakes.
And it’s a great discussion point with kids. Talk about how Jack is feeling throughout the movie. Talk about the bad decisions he’s making and what would have been a better thing to do.
Now, if you watch Nightmare Before Christmas and are on Jack’s side all the way, you may want to examine your life. He’s basically the Grinch, except where the Grinch was stealing Christmas because misery loves company, Jack just wanted it all to himself and figured he knew how to do it better than Santa who has been killin’ it for like hundreds of years.
Do you like the Nightmare Before Christmas? Am I just overthinking it? Have you discussed any of these things with your kids? Hit me up in the comments or on Discord!