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Fifteen years ago today, Comedy Central’s hit South Park first aired its iconic “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” episode. Along with introducing the notion of “Christmas poo” into seasonal holiday conversations, it offered the first major glimpse of co-creator Trey Parker’s song-writing capabilities. While he would go on to sweep the Tony Awards years later with The Book of Mormon, South Park‘s holiday specials gave Parker his first highly-seen platform to share his musical talents. To mark such a milestone, we’re taking a look back at South Park‘s most memorable Christmas musical moments.
“A Jew On Christmas” from “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” 1997
With “Mr. Hankey, the Christmas Poo” being the show’s first episode to feature numerous songs, Parker, a student of classic musical theater, made sure each tune flushed out the characters and pushed forward the narrative. In a genuinely sweet moment, Kyle laments how isolating and trying it is to not be of the Christmas persuasion during the holidays. Along with being a key moment in developing the character, “A Jew On Christmas” works as a refreshing perspective during a typical television “everyone’s in the spirit of Christmas” episode.
“Happy Happy Happy Holidays” from “Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson” 1998
One year later, South Park decided to attempt making a real life Grinch/Scrooge-type character change his ways after feeling the warmth of the holidays in “Merry Christmas, Charlie Manson.” The big closing musical number, “Happy Happy Happy Holidays” parodies the sudden realizations the once-curmudgeonly character goes through when imbued with the Christmas spirit. Airing at the height of the politically correct ’90s, the song crescendos with Manson tagging on a “Happy Kwanzaa too” to its conclusion.
“Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” from “Mr. Hankey’s Christmas Classics” 1999
For the show’s third Christmas special, South Park parodied the once standard Christmas variety special format. The episode, hosted by Mr. Hankey, featured several South Park characters offering their renditions of classic holiday songs, as well as a few originals. Along with a running gag referencing the cult classic Star Wars Holiday Special, the spirit of the episode is best captured with the opening reworking of the “Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo” song, expanded in to a full blown Rankin/Bass musical number.
“Even a Miracle Needs a Hand” from “A Very Crappy Christmas” 2000
Speaking of Rankin/Bass, South Park decided to lift a song from animation company’s 1974 Christmas special ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas for their 2000 Christmas episode “A Very Crappy Christmas.” In both incarnations, “Even a Miracle Needs a Hand” is used to drive a montage showing that when things look hopeless, a little faith can go a long way. Along with reusing the song, the South Park scene incorporates lines from the original special’s dialogue, as well as flashes of the characters’ faces as drawn in the Rankin/Bass style.
“Christmas Time is Once a Year” from “Woodland Critter Christmas” 2004
The surprise twist in South Park‘s most recent Christmas episode, “Woodland Critter Christmas,” is perhaps the most overtly Satanic moment from any broadcasted Christmas programming in the medium’s history. While the joyfully macabre shock has resonated with viewers since its original airing eight years ago, the fateful moment has largely overshadowed the episode’s opening razor-sharp skewering of lazy Christmas music “Christmas Time is Once a Year.” With the episode sending-up the “talking animal Christmas” trope, it fittingly begins with a laughably redundant Christmas tune whose only description of the season is that it comes “once a year.”