With its iconic spooky-but-not-too-scary look and infectiously catchy songs, The Nightmare Before Christmas isn’t just a Halloween staple — it’s a phenomenon. The movie has had a grip on alternative culture since it came out 30 years ago.
In Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Beyond Halloweentown, author Emily Zemler (Disney Princess: Beyond the Tiara) dives into the movie and the subculture that’s grown around Disney’s stop-motion animated film. The fandom for The Nightmare Before Christmas remains so passionate that it’s gone beyond just fashion and decor. As Zemler discovers, it’s actually a surprisingly common theme for weddings and other romantic celebrations — looks like Jack Skellington’s sheer charisma transcends Halloween and Christmas.
Read on for a peculiarly romantic excerpt from Zemler’s book, which is out now.
Romance and Weddings
At the end of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Jack and Sally embrace on Spiral Hill, the snow gleaming underneath them. It’s a poignant moment to conclude the story, which is about finding a sense of belonging with other misfits.
“I wanted something quite simple because he’s misguided and she’s got her own issues and it felt real to me,” Burton recalls of concocting the couple’s romance. “He’s so single-minded and she’s a fragmented character but with equal passion and focus in her own way. It just felt like a real relationship to me.”
Because of that authenticity, Jack and Sally’s love story has transcended the film and become a focal point for many fans. Couples, no matter their sexuality, relate to the pair’s journey to find a soulmate. That has translated into themed Valentine’s Day celebrations, engagements, bachelorette and bachelor weekends, anniversaries, and, of course, weddings, all of which take inspiration from Jack and Sally’s eventual coupling up in the film. Nightmare wedding cakes, which draw on the visual design and the colors in the movie, are particularly widespread. It’s all a way to make the onscreen fantasy into reality.
“I think the reasons why The Nightmare Before Christmas makes for wonderful inspiration for décor and wedding styling are very much the same as why it’s a film everyone loves and watches again and again,” explains wedding planner Valentina Ring. “The colors, aesthetic, and details are absolutely iconic and one-of-a- kind, and frame a love story that isn’t perfect or typical and is all the more endearing for it. The theme, at the very heart of it, is love that transcends all boundaries of time and space, life and death, and of two souls so entwined that nothing can keep them apart. It’s a nostalgic and romantic cult reference, particularly for a certain generation, and one that offers couples a way to express themselves and weave their own style into their celebration.”
Ring designed a particularly evocative elopement held in London on the twenty-fifth anniversary of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Working in collaboration with hair and makeup artist Kayleigh Keen, the event, held in a derelict church, imagined the nuptials of Jack and Sally. They wanted to echo Burton’s work in the details of the wedding with a dark, moody color palette and a wooden carving of Spiral Hill. Keen’s three-legged dog stood in as Zero in a tiny black bow tie.
“Since then, I’ve had a lot of clients refer to these images and ask for particular details or nods to be incorporated in their wedding design, as a way of personalizing their celebration and adding fun little surprises for their guests to discover,” Ring says. “I love that this photoshoot has inspired couples to think outside the box when it comes to their wedding styling, and helped them let go of preconceptions and expectations of what a wedding should look like. Weddings are an opportunity to tell a story, and so should reflect the quirks and histories and values of each individual couple.”
One such couple, Julie Shepard and her husband Doug, had been cosplaying Sally and Jack for several years before their wedding, which made it even more poignant when he referenced the film during their vows. “At the end of his vows, he started reciting, ‘My dearest friend, if you don’t mind, I’d like to join you by your side,’” Shepard remembers. “And of course I joined him—through my tears—to finish the quote as Sally does in the movie.”
For Shepard, channeling the onscreen duo felt relatable. “I think it appeals to couples because Jack and Sally are not a traditional romantic pair,” she says. “How often do a skeleton and a living rag doll even get to be shown as more than monsters? And here they are, not only as fully- realized characters with desires and flaws, but also falling in love. It’s a nice thought for those of us who feel more raggedy than royal that we get happy endings too.”
Kristen Vaughn-Smith and Avery Smith, who married in 2021 at The Old Woolen Mill in Cleveland, Tennessee, took things a step further and threw an entire wedding themed around Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Every element of the celebration was inspired by the film, from the cake to the invitations to the wedding gown to the décor.
“The Nightmare Before Christmas has always been a connecting factor for us,” Vaughn-Smith explains. “Avery always knew it was my favorite movie and he gifted me the soundtrack on purple vinyl for the first birthday of mine that we celebrated together. I also got to share the film with Avery for the first time then. We feel that we have a special ‘Jack and Sally’ connection. We knew we wanted a theme for our wedding that wasn’t too over-the-top or childlike with Halloween decorations. Something that represented us and would be timeless and unforgettable. Something as unique as the film.”
The immersive wedding details reflected elements of the film. The ring box, engraved with “Simply meant to be,” was coffin-shaped and featured images of Jack and Sally, while a “’Til Death” neon sign illuminated the wedding venue. During the reception, the couple sat in ghost chairs decorated with corresponding “His Sally” and “Her Jack” lettering. The pair walked down the aisle to a song from the film and played blink-182’s “I Miss You” as their wedding party was introduced. While not all of the guests had seen the movie, it created a welcoming vibe that felt perfectly suited to the nuptials.
“Our guests seemed to genuinely enjoy the theme,” Vaughn-Smith says. “Many said they were expecting scary due to the old venue’s appearance on the outside and the theme, but they instead found the wedding to be beautiful and unlike anything they’d ever seen—in a good way. They also said they wouldn’t have expected anything less from us.”
For the couple, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas was a way to tap into their nostalgia for a beloved film while also emphasizing the romantic elements of the story. Since their wedding, they’ve had other couples reach out looking to do something similar. “I think the love story is so inspiring to people because it’s different,” Vaughn-Smith reflects. “It demonstrates that no matter how different, weird, or unique you are or how you may not fit in with others, there is a person out there for you and that person actually understands you.”
Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas: Beyond Halloweentown is out now.