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Jack Knows Best: Lessons From The Pumpkin King For Penn State Students

Happy spooky season, Penn State! Whether you ordered your vampire teeth from Amazon last month or just brought home your haul of fun-size candy from Greek or Treat this week, Haunted Valley is upon us.

As the leaves turn brown and chilly winds blow through campus, it’s time to celebrate the season with a classic: Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas story time. 

Written by Burton from his 1983 poem of the same name, “The Nightmare Before Christmas” is a stop-motion, musical spectacular directed by Henry Selick in his 1993 directorial debut. After three years in production, the film was released by Touchstone Pictures in affiliation with Disney, quickly becoming a cult-classic year round and introducing the world to the beloved character, Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King of Halloween Town.

Joined by loyal ghost pup, Zero, and bewitched by Sally, Dr. Finkelstein’s humanoid rag doll creation, Jack schemes to take over Christmas with his crew. By Jack’s request, the town strings up colored lights, learns to sing Christmas carols, and even kidnaps Santa Claus to be tortured by Oogie Boogie, the town’s worst villain and depiction of every child’s fear, the Boogie Man. 

While the film remains controversial in its qualifications as a Christmas or Halloween flick, Jack’s tricks and treats provide some clear lessons for boys and girls of all ages. Regardless of the holiday season, it’s time to sit back, relax, and learn from the Pumpkin King himself. Grab your popcorn, carve up your pumpkin, and round up some friends for a grand ole, movie magic sing-along via Disney+! Here are 10 key takeaways for Penn State students from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Explore New Sights

Faced with boredom even after the town’s rousing holiday celebration, Jack Skellington first sets out on the Spiral Hill, an iconic landmark of the Graveyard arching over the Hinterlands in the ghostly world. Distraught and desperate for a change of scenery, Jack sings openly into the night, begging for relief from the consistent culture of Halloween Town as an emptiness begins to grow. 

Ten weeks deep into the semester, Jack’s feelings aren’t unrelatable, especially as the routine has become a bit mundane lately. For students on the scholarly grind, Jack’s Lament on the Spiral Hill teaches us the importance of switching up your daily scenery on campus. From the steps of Old Main to the famous Duck Pond, there are tons of hidden gems “in this town we call home,” so go out and explore amongst the fall foliage and don’t be afraid to belt one out like Jack while you stop by. 

Two-Faced People Bring More Tricks Than Treats 

A character designed to scare even the bravest souls, the Mayor of Halloween Town presents a unique fear. A cone-shaped official dressed in a pointed top hat, the character features a spinning head with two emotions: a happy, smiling grin, and a distraught, terrifying scowl. Switching back and forth between kindness and back-stabbing, the Mayor becomes even scarier when evaluating the scene as college students.

Symbolic of fake personas fooling the masses, the Mayor represents a form of toxicity most likely present in a student’s life. While our necks hurt just looking at him, it’s helpful to do a deep dive into the character here and apply a warning to today’s conundrums on campus. From a tricky roommate situation to a significant other’s misgivings, view your relationships with an open eye this Halloween and take caution, as even Jack’s empty skull saw the light within the one hour and 19 minute run-time. 

Find Your Way Home By Morning

After celebrating the most successful Halloween night, Jack ventures off in song, eventually waking up deep in the spooky forest quite dazed and confused. Missing the Mayor’s calls, the Pumpkin King stumbles upon the Hinterlands and falls through the tree-shaped door, starting off the story with a sense of desperation that leads to resulting chaos for countless others across the Holiday worlds. 

No one can deny that a night of potions and freedom can be a healthy dose of fun for students, but take a note from Jack here and make sure to find your way home by sunrise. Wandering and whining in the bright sun, it’s obvious that Mr. Skellington and his antics are better suited to darkness than daylight, and most likely, that’s also the case for student life this Halloweekend. 

Teamwork Makes The Dream Work

Requiring the teamwork of Lock, Shock, and Barrel, Jack Skellington sends for Halloween Town’s finest trick-or-treaters by name to complete a top-secret task: kidnap Santa Claus. Working together in a scene terrifying enough to concern Disney executives in the 90s, the group of ghouls bags the big man with the ease of three, getting the job done against all odds as Kris Kringle weighs at least 10 times the total weight of the three creatures combined.

While group work is notoriously dreaded by college students, it’s noteworthy here to remember that Lock, Shock, and Barrel were required to work together by Jack against their wishes and ended up needing each other for success. Even after they accidentally capture the Easter Bunny, the group is an example that bigger tasks often require more hands than just our own. While hopefully your own Canvas assignments are a bit tamer, it’s worthwhile to realize that two heads really are better than one. 

Decorate Accordingly 

A key issue in Jack’s life is the dark, dismal landscape of Halloween Town as he dreams of warmth much different from the coldness of his home. Combating the climate as Jack asks “What’s This?”, a Christmas tree quickly becomes the talk of the town, a small adjustment quite effective in brightening up the environment and morale of the ghouls.

As the sun sets earlier and the nights get colder, there’s no doubt that much like Halloween Town, State College is going gray for winter. To combat a slight case of seasonal depression and chilly conditions taking over, consider decorating the dorm in a new way this season. While the creatures of Halloween Town were easily amazed by Christmas lights, perhaps we can do a bit better than the classic college LEDs this semester. 

Be Flexible 

In an iconic scene, Sally, the ragdoll creation of mad scientist Dr. Finkelstein, distracts the evil Oogie Boogie from his plans to torture the captured Santa Claus. Strapping Santa to torture devices, Oogie Boogie goes after the jolly bearded man in true menacing form, culminating in a frightening song that still keeps us up at night a decade later. To free Santa, the rag doll Sally un-sews both her own leg and hands, using her resources to distract Oogie Boogie and untie Santa Claus in a moment of brilliance and an obvious female slay.

As Sally saves the day, a clear lesson emerges for students here: quick thinking and flexibility is the answer to tricky situations. Whether it be an untimely interaction with your freshman year roommate or a midterm exam discovered upon arrival at your 9 a.m., reading the room and pivoting in the moment is the key to success. While we may be limited by a lack of seams and patches, students can still apply Sally’s advice to win the day.

Comparison Steals Joy

As the Pumpkin King searches for something different, it becomes evident that Skellington has lost his sense of self while pursuing another world. A lanky, spirited skeleton, Jack is a lovable leader to the greatest extent, worshiped in Halloween Town for his commitment to all things spooky. Yet so quickly, Jack is taken by the role of Santa Claus, throwing his spider suit out the window to dress as the jolly man and switching his persona while taking over Christmas.

For college students pursuing the future on a massive campus, a lesson in comparison exists here: While your goals and experiences might be different from those around you, a unique journey remains just as valuable. Much like Jack as he steals Santa’s hat right off his head, comparison is the thief of joy, so stay true to yourself and remember that being unique means being yourself, the best person you can be. 

Stay On The Grind

After falling into Christmas Town and presenting his findings to the Halloween world, Jack borrows some of Dr. Finkelstein’s equipment to conduct experiments on stolen Christmas goods. Crushing holly under a microscope, boiling a candy cane, and slicing open a teddy bear gift, Skellington is undoubtedly intrigued, coining the now-famous Tik Tok phrase, “Interesting reaction, but what does it mean?”

As Jack studies new concepts deeply in a science lab setting, we can all learn from the patriarch of Halloween Town conducting research in an educational pursuit for success. As the late-drop period hasn’t hit us quite yet, it’s not too late to crack open a textbook, transform into an “academic weapon,” and still give it the old college try! 

Update Your Playlist

Transforming Halloween Town to take over Christmas, Jack auditions a variety of musicians to perform Christmas carols for the community. Playing the saddest rendition of Jingle Bells known to man, a horrifying jazz band butchers the new song, much to the delight of Jack as all things terrible are actually deemed good in the upside-down world.

Branching out to new music from standard tradition, we can all learn to switch it up this semester, swapping out our classic tunes when blasting our AirPods on campus. Here, we’ve always asked students, “What Are You Listening To?” and it’s time you start doing the same to liven up the lengthy walk across campus. 

Sandy Claws Is Real

Discovering Christmas Town as he yearns for something more, the Pumpkin King stumbles upon the iconic childhood hero in the flesh. Shown clearly in the movie despite the ridiculous rumors surrounding his existence, Santa Claus, or “the Sandy Claws,” is alive and well, cheerful yet confused until he is finally released back to the North Pole.

Well, we don’t make the rules, people. Film or no film, we’re taking this as a clear sign that the big man is real and could definitely stop by University Park on his yearly trip. While your parents might have given up on this years ago, we’re not ready to let go anytime soon, especially as LionCash+ runs low in December. One stop at McLanahan’s and we’ll supply the milk and cookies. Just drop the presents and move along, Sandy Claws. 


Have a fun and safe Halloweekend, folks. Stay spooky, Penn State! 

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About the Author

Lizzie Palmieri

Lizzie is a junior majoring in marketing and psychology from Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Ask her about Disney World, Diet Pepsi, or dancing on the Jumbotron at Beaver Stadium. When not causing general trouble, Lizzie enjoys playing golf, performing in the theatre, and being the CEO of reorganizing the fridge. Her favorite thing to do is hang out with her sassy sidekick, 18-year-old Italian Greyhound, Macaroni. Follow her on Twitter @lizziepalmieri if your deepest desire is bestie vibes only.

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