The Spirit of Christmas is the name of two different animated short films made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone. They are notable for being precursors to the animated series South Park. To differentiate the two, they are often referred to as Jesus vs. Frosty (1992) and Jesus vs. Santa (1995).
The story depicts the four building a snowman and, in the vein of Frosty the Snowman, putting a magic hat on it to make it come to life. Unfortunately, Frosty turns out to be evil and deranged, sprouting huge tentacles and killing the Kenny-named Cartman-resembling boy by throwing him. This leads one of the boys to utter the first version of a line which recurs in countless South Park episodes: "Oh my God! Frosty killed Kenny!"
The boys go to Santa for help, but he turns out merely to be Frosty in disguise. This time, he kills the Kenny-resembling boy, again by throwing him. The two remaining boys run away, and come across a nativity scene with a baby Jesus, who flies over to the evil snowman and defeats it by slicing off the magic hat with a hurl of his halo. One of the boys says another recurring line from the South Park series: "You know, I learned something today", and he and his friend realise the purported "true" meaning of Christmas: that is, presents. As a deer nibbles at the cadaver of the Cartman-resembling boy, they go to their homes to find presents hidden by their parents.
This version of The Spirit of Christmas features an animation style very similar to that of the eventual South Park series, as well as more developed versions of Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny (each of whom are referred to by name) living in South Park. Wendy Testaburger offers an unnamed and non-speaking cameo as a child sitting on Santa's lap. The film largely establishes the characters as they are used in South Park and contains elements that recur in the series, such as Kyle being a Jew, and rats eating Kenny's corpse. The film reportedly had a budget of $750, with Parker and Stone keeping the remainder of their commission.
The story differs significantly from Jesus vs. Frosty. It opens with the four boys singing "We Wish You a Merry Christmas", when suddenly Stan stops to tell Kyle he should sing Hanukkah songs instead, since "Jewish people don't celebrate Christmas!" Cartman insults the song ("I Have a Little Dreidel") that Kyle begins singing, and they start to argue. They are interrupted, however, when Jesus appears, asking them to take him to the mall, where they find Santa Claus.
Jesus is angry with "Kringle" because, in his opinion, he diminishes the memory of Jesus's birthday with his presents. Santa, insistent that Christmas is a time for giving, and not merely remembering Jesus's birthday, claims that "this time" they will "finish it", and that "there can be only one". They fight in a style reminiscent of such games as Mortal Kombat, accidentally killing various bystanders, including Kenny (thus eliciting Stan and Kyle's catchphrase), in the process. Jesus pins Santa down, and each of the cobs asks the boys to help him. Stan hesitates: "What would Brian Boitano do? The figure skater miraculously appears and delivers a speech about how Christmas should be about being good to one another. The boys, enlightened, transmit the message to the fighters, who apologise to each other in shame. They thank the boys for helping and decide to bury the hatchet over an orange smoothie. As in Jesus vs. Frosty, the boys come to realise the "true" meaning of Christmas: that is, presents. Kyle remarks that, if one is Jewish, one receives presents for eight days rather than on only one. The others decide as a result to become Jewish, too, and, while rats gnaw on Kenny's corpse, leave the scene singing the Dreidel song.
Graden initially distributed the video to eighty friends in December 1995, one of whom is rumoured to have been George Clooney. Brian Boitano, too, is believed to have laid hands on the tape, and was apparently flattered by his depiction. After months' passing around on bootleg video and the internet, the film caught the attention of cable network Comedy Central, which hired the pair to develop the South Park series, which premièred in the USA on August 13, 1997.
That same year, Jesus vs. Santa received a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best animation. The film can be found on the South Park The Hits: Volume 1 DVD. A short clip is visible in a drive-in movie screen in some openers of South Park. It was also included in AVI format on Tiger Woods '99 for PlayStation. It is accessible from the game disc by PC. Because of this, the game was recalled in January 1999 by Electronic Arts.