Tips from the creator of Petaluma for throwing your own ‘Nightmare Before Christmas’ party
It was the perfect pandemic project for a locked-out stylist with few distractions – imagine dozens of craft projects for themed parties playing Tim Burton’s animated cult classic from 1993, “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”
Caroline Hall was recruited by Insight Editions, which specializes in cookbooks, cards, calendars, gifts, puzzles and other products related 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 fantastic tale of Jack Skellington, The Pumpkin King, who wanders out of the spooky Halloween town and finds himself in an unknown world of candy canes and elves. Jack is so enchanted that he plots to kidnap Santa Claus and resume his job, with terrifying results.
The movie is still a Halloween favorite over Christmas 27 years later, which pretty much guaranteed fans to pick up the book for their holiday season. Veteran food writer and baker Kim Laidlaw, who like Hall is originally from Petaluma, was enlisted to create recipes.
The book is already an Amazon bestseller, ranking # 1 in Halloween Cooking and # 3 in Holiday Cooking, and is among the site’s top 1,000 books.
Much of the magic came from 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 tight deadlines, she designed projects and prototypes for four theme nights: a “This Is Halloween Party”, “The Nightmare Before Christmas Party”, a birthday party and a “Zero the Dog Summer BBQ Party” . A fifth part will be included in an expanded special edition sold exclusively by Barnes & Noble and is expected to be released next month.
The pandemic actually made it easier for him to sequester himself in his office and dive in and let his macabre imagination take over.
âIt was helpful to have it so condensed. You are in and focused. Whereas if I had had a year to do it, I would have dragged it and put it on the back burner. It forced creativity, âsaid Hall, stylist, art director and interior designer. âI had a full workshop in my office. It looked like Christmas and Halloween had vomited in there.
When fires struck last year, Hall welcomed 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 building craft prototypes.
The deadline was crazy but the topic was so easy, Hall said.
âI had so much to do between Halloween and Christmas. And all the holidays do appear at some point in the movie. It’s so visually rich to watch. It’s just delicious and inspiring, âsaid Hall, whose favorite holiday, thankfully, is Halloween.
She designed templates for many crafts using fonts and other tools provided to her. They can be downloaded from insighteditions.com/NightmareEntertaining. Anyone looking to recreate Halloween Town in their home or garden will find instructions in the book for creating hanging shadows of spiders and skulls that can be cast with flashlights on the walls. A “It’s Halloween” banner can be made for the wall with white paper or old sheet music and string.
One of Hall’s favorite projects is a Halloween countdown clock, designed after the clock that hung at town hall in the center of Halloween town in the movie. 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 wooden sign with chalk paint where the days can be counted.
âI tried to make it as precise as possible,â she said, âwhich meant a lot of watching the movie.â
Every good party needs activities and crafts. Some of the easy projects that guests can make and take home include Oogie Boogie playing cards with glow-in-the-dark black light paint; glow-in-the-dark pumpkin heads; papier-mÃ¢chÃ© masks featuring Lock, Shock and Barrel, three imps from the film; and vampire protection umbrellas, which are useful for Dodge the Sunlight Vampire game.
She also suggests a Jack the Pumpkin King pumpkin carving contest, clawfoot tub races using cheap clawfoot soap dishes, and a Halloween costume contest. How about a burlap gift bag featuring Oogie Boogie, the infamous boogeyman from the movie? Fill it with gummy worms.