Jack Sneaks A Peek
How strange! A door!
Embellished with a tree!
Jack takes a peek behind it
just to see what he can see!
No ghouls, no goblins,
no wicked sights abound
In point of fact, there's nothing Jack
expects in Christmas Town!
So says the poem on the back of the box for this ornament, encapsulating what the ornament reveals. At this point in the movie, Jack has wandered far from his Halloween village, trekking through the night, deep into the forest. He is fully embarked on a quest to soothe the unfamiliar longings he is experiencing for the first time. He is rewarded for his searching - he finds a circle of unusually decorated trees, each with a door carved into it. He opens the door that leads to Christmas Town, enters and ultimately returns forever changed.
And this is the same journey we all have to travel. Each of the trees represent a journey within, and the necessary work that has to happen if we are to successfully follow the same pattern as Jesus. The Christmas tree represents the beginning of the journey, the initial contact with the Incarnation and all its possibilities, and to one like Jack, who is so completely unfamiliar with anything but self-indulgence, Christmas makes absolutely no sense. In fact, he tries to reinterpret Christmas through his own lens when he returns, and makes an enormous mess of everything. As long as Jack remains a resident of Halloween Village, he will never understand Christmas Town.
I think we can easily fall into this same trap as Jack. Christmas becomes a competition, an excuse to overindulge in everything from spending to eating, on comparing who gets the best stuff and wins the most swag. On the flip side, I have heard too many "holy" people tell us to act like Puritans. The flesh is bad! Stay away from parties! Ignore the lights! What nonsense. Clearly, we are called to do neither.
In the northern hemisphere, Halloween marks the beginning of the end of the year, the great "gathering in" that takes place in the fields across the land, as well as the spiritual "gathering in" that is detailed in the Book of Revelation. The end of the liturgical year culminates in the great feast of Christ the King, King of the Universe. It is a very important, and very opportune, feast day that invites us to seriously reflect on what we have spent our time sowing this year, and to extend that out to what we have spent our lives sowing: that is what we will reap at the "gathering in.
This ornament remind us that if we have a few prickles in our conscience as we reflect over the past year, don't fear! Christmas is just just around the corner, and we can begin again. Halloween has its hand on the door to Christmas Town.
Jack's Particular Pet
This ornament features Jack Skellington's dog, Zero. If you've seen the movie "The Nightmare Before Christmas" then you know how loyal this dog is to his master. Dogs are certainly symbols of loyalty. In the book of Tobit, a dog is mentioned twice, in quite an odd manner. When Tobias, Tobit's son, and the angel Raphael (though in disguise) set out on a journey to their relative, Scripture reads "the dog followed Tobiah out and went along with them." (Tobit 6:2) It's almost comical. Here Tobias and the mighty angel Raphael are all geared up for this lengthy and dangerous journey, about to take on evil demons, and the inspired author takes time out to mention that the family dog goes, too!
Although the addition of the dog to the group is probably not of extreme importance to the story, it is odd that the dog is mentioned at all. But we get a clue as to why at the end of the story. The same dog is mentioned again, this time when they return triumphant from the journey "the dog ran along behind them." (Tobit 11:1) As we so often say of dogs, they are nothing if not loyal. Through thick and thin, they'll be with you. If dogs are symbols of loyalty, then it is certainly appropriate for one to be accompanying Tobias on a dangerous trip. As a symbol of God's constant loyalty, the dog represents that God went with them - literally followed them out - and followed them all the way back home.
Jack's dog, Zero, captures this same symbol of loyalty. He has followed Jack everywhere, even into death. The box reads "Jack Skellington's dog Zero is a most peculiar pet. His house is in a graveyard and he never needs a vet. Though he's a ghost, he never seems to frighten anyone - he's friendly, loyal to the bone, and ready to have fun!" Yea, loyal even unto the grave. Isn't that really where we all hope to encounter the merciful God?
Here Comes the Pumpkin King
MAGIC: sound clip
This ornament recalls the moment in the movie when Jack makes his "turn" - that literary device where a character changes. Two things happen at the same time: first, there's an interior movement. Jack voices this inchoate, incessant feeling of longing. This feeling has likely been bubbling away for a long time just under Jack's consciousness, always manifesting, breaking through into Jack's conscious mind, as a general feeling of something being "off," a nameless, vague, indescribable feeling of discomfort, of being dissatisfied with his life. At this moment, though, Jack finally admits it - he names it. The ornament plays a short sound clip of Jack enunciating his feeling:
Oh, somewhere deep, inside of these bones,
An emptiness began to grow.
There's something out there far from my home,
A longing that I've never known.
Despite the fact that Jack has everything he wants to make him happy (prestige, admiration of others, a position of authority) he still feels empty, as though he has nothing.
The second thing that happens is an external movement. Jack walks. Eventually, he will walk all the way into Christmas Town, a place radically beyond his previous experience. The combination of the interior and exterior movements is what propels the change in his life. It is this same combination of interior and exterior movement that changes us, too.
But one thing to notice is that Jack is actually willing to give everything away. All his fame, fortune (whatever that may be) and position is not enough to make him keep going or to give him even the hope of happiness. I was reading an article lately talking about the rise in suicides and addiction to prescription drugs, as well as the rise in the "nones," those who do not identify themselves with any religion. The article talked about the effects of living in a "meritocratic" society, where a person's value is not intrinsic, based on the image of God, but is instead based on their merits - their achievements. According to the statistics cited by sociologists, the emotion that Jack is feeling is being felt in epidemic proportions. Let's hope and pray this Halloween that more people are able to keep going, and find their way to Christmas Town, where true community and freedom from worth based only on external achievements can be found.
You can watch Jack's Lament below.