This episode of South Park feels so infamous that I don’t feel the need to include South Park in the title of the post. South Park’s most recent Christmas special, now 13 years old mind you, is a rather notorious episode. It’s so farcical that it feels silly even by the standards of the show, and if you’re at all familiar with South Park you know how ridiculous it can get. After centering most of its Christmas episodes around a magical, talking poop, creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably felt like there was little left for them to do with South Park. In the year before this episode, they sent the boys to Canada for a Wizard of Oz parody that felt a little off, as far as Christmas episodes go. It was the special before that, “Red Sleigh Down,” that felt like a conclusion to the stories they had been telling centered around the holiday. In some respects, it’s a bit surprising they didn’t stop there, but maybe since the show originated as a Christmas special they felt compelled to keep returning to the subject. And it suddenly makes sense that the framing device for this episode is a boy telling a story about Christmas. A woodland, critter Christmas, if you will.
The episode opens with a narrator, a narrator who will stick with us throughout the episode and is very obviously Trey Parker (like most of the voices on the show). The episode sets up South Park as a quiet little mountain town getting ready for Christmas, and we’re taken to the forest where the little critters are busy getting ready for Christmas too. It’s over the top in its sweetness, complete with a sappy song, but the episode does a good job of playing things off as sincere. The episode even gets its own title card with all of the critters as they sing their little song about Christmas being almost here. The narrator introduces all of the critters and they all have simple names which is just the name of the animal with an “e” sound added to the end, e.g. – Rabbitty the rabbit, Beary the bear, etc. The scene is evocative of “Frosty the Snowman” when the animals in that special decorate the forrest for Christmas. South Park takes it one step further by making these critters able to speak and they also all wear a festive scarf, sweater, or hat. It’s also probably inspired by the Chucklewood Critters, and if you aren’t familiar with that series then tune in a bit closer to Christmas for something on them.
A little boy in a red poof-ball hat happens upon the scene of the critters decorating their tree. The boy is Stan, and he’s kind of surprised to see animals behaving this way, but also couldn’t really care less. The critters need a star for their tree, but they can’t make one themselves, and they implore Stan to give them a hand. Stan is our unwilling participant in this story as he’ll need to be pushed along, often times trying to ignore the will of the narrator or being outwardly defiant towards him. Since making a star isn’t too bad, Stan obliges then goes home. The critters are appreciative and celebrate Stan (I should say, Stanny) as their new best friend while Stan walks away probably hoping to never see them again.
That night, the critters surprise Stan by visiting him in his room. They wake him up in the middle of the night with some “exciting” news: Porcupiney is pregnant! There’s a catch though, she’s been impregnated immaculately and the critters believe she will give birth to their savior. A savior of their very own! They need Stan’s help though to build a manger for Porcupiney, and Stan reluctantly helps. He leaves the warmth of his bed to drowsily assemble a pretty decent looking manger, only for a mountain lion to show up and frighten he and the critters. It is then revealed to Stan that this happens every year: a critter gets pregnant, and a mountain lion kills the critter before the birth can take place. The critters need Stan’s help to slay the mountain lion. Once again, Stan reluctantly helps out the critters and seeks out the mountain lion. He finds the creature in a cave and is able to get the beast to chase him up a mountain that looks suspiciously like Mt. Crumpet. There he is able to dodge the lion’s charge sending her plummeting to her demise in a scene reminiscent of Mufasa’s death from The Lion King. Once the lion strikes earth, its cubs emerge sad and dismayed to see their mother dead. Stan pleads ignorance, as the talking cubs question why he killed their mom and seem resigned to their orphaned state. Stan, speechless, slumps back to the critters.
The critters learn of the mountain lion’s demise and are elated. Now their savior can be born – Heil Satan! What?! Stan is beside himself to hear the critters praise the dark one, and is speechless as they sacrifice Rabbitty to the devil and take part in a blood orgy. The camera lingers long enough for us to see most of the details of the blood orgy as the critters pleasure themselves around the manger in a scene no one probably ever expected to see in a cartoon.
Stan returns to his home, seemingly resigned to the fact that he played a part in the soon to occur birth of the antichrist. He wants no part in what’s to come, but our persistent narrator gets Stan to get off of his butt and head back to the forest. When Stan attempts to take down the manger he built, the critters are forced to use their evil, Satanic powers on him shooting him with lasers and summoning demonic flames. Stan is forced to run and the narrator clues him in to the fact that three mountain lions still live that can maybe stop this. When Stan returns to the cubs he’s mocked by the trio as they’re quick to point out they can’t do anything to stop the critters. Then Stan has an idea – he can take the cubs to an abortion clinic. There they can learn how to perform an abortion and perhaps prevent the birth of the antichrist from ever occurring! Stan does just that and we get perhaps the weirdest montage to ever appear in a Christmas special as the cubs happily mess around in an abortion clinic while patients giggle and the doctor is happy to show them all he knows.
Armed wth this new found knowledge, Stan and the cubs return to the critters only to find out they’re too late. The antichrist has been born! The antichrist needs a human host though, and since Stan was raised Catholic he’s been baptized and thus can’t serve in that role. They had tried asking him earlier and were dismayed to know their old buddy couldn’t be of further use, but unknown to Stan the critters had happened upon his best friend Kyle. Kyle is Jewish, and therefore he has not been baptized. When Stan and the cubs find the antichrist born, they also find Kyle tied down to a stone altar of sorts. A red star bleeds in the night sky to mark the occasion, which also alerts Santa Claus of the danger. Santa arrives as the critters are preparing to put their savior in Kyle. Santa is rather displeased in the role Stan has played up to this point, and seems all together annoyed he has to deal with this situation. He produces a shotgun and immediately starts laying waste to the critters, their Satanic powers doing little to stop him.
With the critters destroyed all that is left is for the antichrist to die. Since it lacks a host, Santa informs the boys they don’t need to do anything, it’ll die on its own. That’s when Kyle springs into action. He wants the antichrist inside of him so he can make the world a better place for the Jews!
We’re immediately brought to a classroom scene as Kyle shouts for Cartman to cease reading his story. Apparently this whole time Cartman was essentially our narrator as he reads a Christmas story to Mr. Garrison’s fourth grade class. Kyle doesn’t want Cartman to continue since it’s become obvious the whole story served as a means for Cartman to mock him for being Jewish. Mr. Garrison tells Cartman he can’t continue because Kyle’s mom will raise Hell if he allows him to make fun of Kyle for being Jewish. Cartman reluctantly leaves his stool at the front of the class while the rest of the kids in class plead with him to say what happens, with Stan asking him if he has a merry Christmas. Kyle theorizes on where the story goes with Cartman insisting he has it all wrong. When the other kids plead with Kyle to let Cartman finish the story he angrily relents and Cartman returns to the head of the class.
When the setting shifts back into the story, we find Kyle is now the antichrist, only it doesn’t feel so good. He immediately comes to regret his decision, while Santa informs him that he has to kill him now. Stan has a different idea though, and tells the lion cubs to use the knowledge they gained at the abortion clinic to fetch the antichrist out of Kyle’s ass. They get right to work, and sure enough, they yank the yapping little creature out of Kyle’s rectum. Santa then smashes it with a sledgehammer and the skies return to their normal appearance. Santa, now not so sour about what took place, tells Stan he deserves a special Christmas present for all he has been through. Stan asks Santa to restore the life of the mountain lion, which he does. Everyone is happy as the camera slowly pulls back on a shot of the snow-covered town. Then it cuts quickly to Kyle in a hospital bed and the narrator informs us that he got AIDS and died two weeks later.
“Woodland Critter Christmas” is an uncomfortably hilarious episode of South Park, and it’s not surprising they have declined to attempt a true Christmas special ever since. It’s one of the few episodes I can remember where everyone I knew was talking about it after it aired, “Did you see that episode of South Park with the woodland critters?” It takes the mold of a generic Christmas special and subverts it expertly. Most episodes that tried to do something like this probably would have abandoned the narrator after the first act, feeling the joke was done, but South Park keeps it up for the entire duration of the episode. The fact that the critters turn out to be a bunch of devil worshippers is not entirely surprising, since anyone familiar with the show knows there’s more to them than meets the eye when first encountered, but the angle is pursued in such an uncompromising fashion that it’s hard to believe. And it then takes things one step further by, in a Christmas special, using abortion as a tool to stop the antichrist and save the world. I remember being home for the holidays and making my little sister watch this episode on Christmas Eve because she hadn’t seen it. My dad watched with us up until the Satan reveal and then went to bed, remarking stuff like this is why America is so screwed up. I had never seen him react in such a way to anything before, and I haven’t since.
Because the episode is so uncomfortable for some, I can understand if this isn’t exactly a beloved holiday classic. My very own sister thought it was pretty hilarious, but also doesn’t really enjoy watching it again. And to some extent, the episode doesn’t really hold up well with repeated viewings. Most of the humor is derived from the surprises that crop up and they’re obviously not surprising any longer. I still think it holds up as an absurd Christmas special. Maybe not a classic, but a lot of the shocking imagery still makes me laugh in an “I can’t believe they did this” kind of way, even though the show has probably done far worse since.
“Woodland Critter Christmas” is likely to receive numerous airings all month long on Comedy Central and wherever South Park is syndicated. The episode can also be found on the DVD set for South Park Season 8 and on the DVD release Christmas Time in South Park, which may be out of print at this point, but is still pretty easy and cheap to acquire. That set is pretty great if you just want all of the South Park Christmas specials, of which there are seven, in one convenient package.