Petaluma designer’s tips for throwing your own ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ party
It was the perfect pandemic project for a stylist in lockdown with few distractions — dream up scores of craft projects for themed parties playing off Tim Burton’s 1993 animated cult classic, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Caroline Hall was recruited by Insight Editions, which specializes in cookbooks, cards, calendars, gifts, puzzles and other products tied to popular franchises from “Harry Potter” to “The Muppets,” to collaborate on “The Nightmare Before Christmas: The Official Cookbook & Entertaining Guide.”
Hall had about six weeks to create decorations and projects, activities and invitations inspired by the fantastical tale of Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King, who wanders out of spooky Halloween Town and finds himself in an unfamiliar world of candy canes and elves. Jack is so enchanted he plots to kidnap Santa Claus and take over his job, with terrifying results.
The film is still a Halloween-to-Christmas favorite 27 years later, which pretty much guaranteed fans would grab up the book for their holiday celebrations. Veteran food writer and baker Kim Laidlaw, who, like Hall, is from Petaluma, was enlisted to create recipes.
The book is already an Amazon bestseller, ranking No. 1 in Halloween cooking and No. 3 in Holiday cooking, and is among the top 1,000 books on the site.
Much of the magic was spun out of Hall’s second-floor office in the 1905 post-Victorian home in west Petaluma where she lives with her husband, Brad Villeggiante, and daughter, Cecily, 5.
Under the tight deadline, she devised projects and prototypes for four themed parties: a “This Is Halloween Party,” “The Nightmare Before Christmas Party,” a birthday party and a “Zero the Dog Summer BBQ Party.” A fifth party will be included in a special expanded edition sold exclusively through Barnes & Noble and set to be released next month.
The pandemic actually made it easier for her to sequester in her office and dive in and let her ghoulish imagination take over.
“It was helpful having it so condensed. You’re in it and focused. Whereas if I had a year to do it, I would have dragged it out and pushed it onto the back burner. It forced creativity,” said Hall, a stylist, art director and interior designer. “I had a full-on workshop in my office. It looked like Christmas and Halloween threw up in there.”
When the fires hit last year, Hall hosted evacuees who took refuge in one of the many rooms in the rambling house that was built as a hospital. They provided extra hands for constructing craft prototypes.
The deadline was crazy but the subject matter was so easy, Hall said.
“I had so much to go off of between Halloween and Christmas. And all the holidays make an appearance at some point in the movie. It’s so visually rich to look at. It’s just yummy and inspiring,” said Hall, whose favorite holiday, fortunately, is Halloween.
She designed templates for many of the crafts using fonts and other tools provided to her. They can be downloaded at insighteditions.com/NightmareEntertaining. Anyone looking to recreate Halloween Town in their home or backyard will find in the book instructions for making hanging shadow shapes of spiders and skulls that can be projected with flashlights onto walls. A “This is Halloween” banner can be made for the wall out of white paper or old sheet music and twine.
One of Hall’s favorite projects is a Halloween Countdown Clock, fashioned after the clock that hung on Town Hall in the center of Halloween Town in the film. She started with a clock kit, painted the face with a spider web design, added the months of the year and glued moss around the edges. For the countdown, she created a small wood sign with chalk paint where the days can be counted down.
“I tried to make it as accurate as possible,” she said, “which meant watching the movie a lot.”
Every good party needs activities and crafts. Some of the easy projects party guests can make and take home include Oogie Boogie playing cards with black-light paint that glows in the dark; glow-in-the-dark pumpkin heads; papier-mâché masks in the likenesses of Lock, Shock and Barrel, three imps from the movie; and vampire-protection parasols, which come in handy for the Dodge the Sunlight Vampire Game.
She also suggests a Jack the Pumpkin King Pumpkin-Carving Contest, Clawfoot bathtub races using inexpensive clawfoot tub soap dishes and a Halloween Town Costume Contest. How about a party favor bag made of burlap in the likeness of Oogie Boogie, the infamous boogeyman from the movie? Fill it with gummy worms.