In the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Tim Burton elegantly weaves a story about the inhabitants of Halloween Town, a fictional land where Halloween reigns supreme, all day, every day. The town is led by Jack Skellington, a.k.a. “The Pumpkin King,” who accidentally stumbles upon a secret portal to Christmas Town, a land filled with snow, sweets, and Santa Claus himself.
Jack is enthralled with this odd land of merriment and joy, two emotions which are counter to the ennui and melancholy his character begins the film with. He quickly decides to remedy his growing unease by incorporating elements of Christmas Town into his world, and encourages his friends and fiends to follow suit.
In the song “Making Christmas,” the residents of Halloween Town show how they plan to present their version of Christmas, despite the fact that their vision of the holiday is slightly skewed. Watch below:
Over the weekend, I was reminded of this song as I began to contemplate my own lot during the holiday season. I found myself feeling somewhat like Jack, the main protagonist of the story, who begins the movie dealing with a gaping emotional void and no foreseeable remedy.
Now, I am neither a skeleton nor depressed, but I have come to discover a growing emptiness in my heart around the holiday season. I don’t love Christmas any less, mind you. On the contrary, it still remains as my most treasured holiday and favorite time of the year…but, due to the inevitable changes of time/destiny/fate, Christmas is just not what it used to be anymore.
I’ve struggled over the past few years trying to figure out where Christmas had gone. When and where did the magic start to fade? Christmas used to be such a joyous and exciting time for me…I couldn’t let those feelings of love and happiness fade. However, the harder I tried to keep my “picture perfect” Christmas alive, the further it fell from my grasp.
This past weekend, I spent a lot of time pondering why Christmas had changed for me. Why was I having emotional doubts about a time which used to bring me so much joy? The Grinch was my first suspect.
Nay, no prosthetic-wearin’, banana-peel-totin’ Jim Carrey abducted my Christmas. However, I was able to discern a few reasons why my holidays may not usher in the same merriment that they used to:
1.) This may come as a shock, but I’m no longer 5 years old.
Yes, it’s true. I no longer ask for Jurassic Park action figures or Power Ranger costumes. I ask for practical things, like clothing steamers and kitchen mixers. I no longer anticipate seeing dozens of presents scattered beneath a real, live Frasier Fur tree. And…I know. Yes, it’s sad, but true. I know about him. I know that He’s in league with the Easter Bunny AND the Tooth Fairy. I also know that my parents let me down gently when they had to “break the news.” Christmas has never been the same since.
2.) I’ve been a hermit and nomad for the past 4 years.
Since 2006, I have lived in four different places: an apartment in Pennsylvania during my undergrad, New York City, my hometown, and my current location in Northwestern PA. I’ve transitioned from college, to grad school, to more college, and to student teaching, all the while never staying long enough in one place to develop any lasting traditions. I’ve had to alter and modify any standing routines or annual activities with my family because of how busy I’ve been.
For the most part, I’ve been living on my own for the past 4 years, and I’ve become pretty good at it. I set my own schedule, I make my own rules, and I can walk around my apartment naked. Just me, myself, and I (and my dog, Bailey, who is always nude to begin with…that tramp).
I’ve become so good at living alone, in fact, that I’ve begun to forget what it’s like to have a family around 24/7. When you’re a child, you always return home to a home, not a rented apartment, nor a studio space in NYC. In the evenings, you have people to watch TV with, and in the mornings, you have someone to eat breakfast next to. You always have companionship, even if you sequester yourself to a bedroom or home office. You’re never not around someone.
When I apply this realization to Christmastime, I understand that living on your own takes away the excitement you would normally feel living in a house with parents and siblings. You come home on a Friday night to watch your favorite holiday movie with Mom, Dad, and a big bowl of popcorn. You bake cookies with Gram, and you make snowmen with Papa. Family get-togethers enhance the season, and Christmas music floods every corner of the house. I’m fully aware that I could watch movies, bake cookies, make snowmen, and play music on my own…but it’s just not the same without family around.
3.) People can’t stay forever.
Over the past three years, I’ve lost both of my grandparents. Gram passed in the summer of 2008, and Papa passed just last January. In the architecture of my family, these two people were the foundation, and I know that the holidays dramatically changed when they started to deteriorate. Gram used to be so full of energy and spunk: one minute she’d be baking 12 different kinds of cookies, the next, she’d be swilling a Manhattan. Papa, equally as spunky, would always unfailingly irritate her, thus causing her to weave “a tapestry of obscenities that, as far as we know, is still hanging in space over Lake Michigan.”
These two always made me feel so damn special around Christmas. Well, they made me feel special all the same (What? I was the youngest grandkid! You do the math!), but even more so at Christmas. I actually spent most of my December weekdays with them before I was able to stay home by myself.
Their absence has, unknowingly, created a huge void in my life. I didn’t realize how big this void was until I found myself crying on Friday night, as I finally allowed myself to miss them for the first time in years. It took me that long to let myself grieve.
The list went on and on….more and more reasons surfaced as to why Christmas was changing for me. I found myself getting frustrated: how had I let Christmas change? Why wasn’t I more careful about keeping old traditions alive? How could I have prevented this?
Questions were met with more questions. I reasoned with myself through millions of circle, but in the end, one truth stood alone: Christmas had changed, it was changing…and I needed to let it change.
I fought for “My” Christmas for so long that I had become blind to the transformations taking place. Rituals I once took part in no longer ushered in a sense of cheer. Traditions long held had faded off into the sunset. Seasonal habits were begrudgingly done, devoid of any enthusiasm. And when things are done with resignation instead of passion, there needs to be a change made.
So, starting this year, I am “making Christmas,” just as the citizens of Halloween Town attempted to do. I am acknowledging that traditions/rituals/people have changed…Christmas has changed…and therefore, so must I. I must work to embrace these changes, and create new traditions with as much worth and joy as the old ones held. I cannot alter the course of events that have led me up to this Christmas, but I can open my mind to new avenues of opportunity and possibility.
It is a scary thing to embrace the unknown…to leave the comfort of routine and habit…but how will you ever find mirth and wonder if you’re unwilling to be courageous and take a leap of faith?
Although the lyrics of “Making Christmas” primarily describe how to make decorations of bat wings and spider legs, one mantra is repeated through the entire song, which I believe applies to my situation.
“It’s ours this time.”
At three separate moments in the piece, the characters croon this phrase, making reference to their Halloween-themed version of Christmas. They take a completely foreign idea, incorporate it into their world, and joyfully embrace it. They show no fear or hesitation of the unknown; instead, their eyes are all aglow with wonder and merriment.
So, by my own logic:
A Merry Christmas = Merriment + Joy + Wonder
“Making Christmas” (Embracing new ideas) = Merriment + Joy + Wonder
A Merry Christmas = Embracing New Ideas