Oh, My Pop Culture Religion: The Nightmare Before Religious Syncretism

nightmare before ChristmasOne of my favorite Halloween movies is The Nightmare Before Christmas. I’m a sucker for Tim Burton and the music of Danny Elfman, and when you combine it with Christmas cheer and Halloween gothic macabre, you basically get the best Christmas/Halloween crossover extravaganza ever. But because over-analyzing things is my third-favorite hobby (next to soul-harvesting and baking), I got to thinking: could there be something more behind our stop-motion miniatures? I think there might be. The Nightmare Before Christmas is rich with lore and depth, and can serve as a cautionary tale against religious syncretism.

Religious syncretism is different from cultural appropriation. Usually cultural appropriation involves a “dominant” culture borrowing important or sacred elements from an oppressed culture for frivolous reasons. A non-Native American wearing a war bonnet as a costume or fashion accessory is a kind of cultural appropriation, because war bonnets are important spiritual and political objects worn by Native American men in tribes from the Plains region. The non-Native wearer doesn’t understand or care to understand the significance of the object. Religious syncretism involves the successful or unsuccessful melding of two belief systems, and is intimately connected with meaning. It’s precisely Jack’s search for meaning that moves him from cultural appropriation to attempting religious syncretism.

Spoilers for The Nightmare Before Christmas below, of course.

Continue reading