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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

The SpongeBob Christmas Special: an animated masterpiece worth watching every holiday season

The Spongebob Christmas Special’s title card.  

“Christmas Who?” (also known as “Patchy The Pirate Presents The SpongeBob Christmas Special”) is the eighth episode in Season 2 of SpongeBob SquarePants and the first double-length episode of the series. First airing on Nickelodeon in 2000, this special has been part of my Christmas rituals since childhood, partly out of nostalgia and just as equally out of the episode’s quality.  

In general, the entertainment-value of SpongeBob episodes through the show’s first three seasons don’t diminish with age, so it’s unsurprising that “Christmas Who” excels in its plot, comedy, atmosphere and music.

The episode follows the very first Christmas of Bikini Bottom (SpongeBob’s undersea town). The ocean-folk had never heard of the holiday before, but SpongeBob learns about it from his friend Sandy, who is a squirrel from above land; enchanted by her stories of Santa Claus, he arranges a grandiose Christmas celebration for everyone.

While the plot sounds like another generic Christmas special for a kids show, it’s actually executed in a pretty nice way, appealing to a broad audience while still maintaining a kind of artistic sheen (a bold thing to say for a Nickelodeon cartoon, I know, but, really, you can watch it yourself and be the judge). 

After learning about Christmas from Sandy, SpongeBob tells everyone in Bikini Bottom they can send their wishes to Santa and he can make them come true. They all write their letters, roll them up into bottles and shoot them up to the surface for Santa. Squidward (SpongeBob’s pessimistic neighbor) is the only one who refuses, as he doesn’t think some mystical old man who leaves presents for people is real. 

The people of Bikini Bottom stay up all night singing a song for Santa, well into the morning, only for him to never arrive. Everyone becomes disappointed with SpongeBob and deserts the celebration, leaving him thoroughly dejected. 

Squidward then feels bad for SpongeBob, so he puts on a costume and pretends to be Santa arriving at last. He ends up giving away almost everything he owns as gifts for the townsfolk and the episode ends with a letter from Santa on Squidward’s doorstep, thanking him for his help. 

The story is a classic “the true meaning of Christmas” lesson, which could be viewed as a bit cheesy, but it’s delivered very subtly and powerfully through Squidward’s eventual empathy. I remember the twist of Santa never arriving being extremely depressing as a kid, contrasted with his subsequent letter, proving his existence.

The episode is also quite funny, with Patrick’s over-the-top stupidity, Squidward’s initial sarcastic ridiculing of the holiday and “The Very First Christmas” song that’s played as everyone prepares for Christmas. 

I’ve already mentioned the show’s atmospheric details in my previous SpongeBob article, but it’s in holiday-themed episodes like this where they really shine. There are scenes of festooned houses damasked by cozy Christmas lights, ornaments and candy-canes, close to a snow-covered coral tree off to the side filled with lanterns, all under the back-drop of an underwater evening. 

The music that accompanies such imagery compliments it greatly. The show’s creators made the excellent choice of combining original and production music to evoke the classic feel of the holidays while still retaining the ambience of an underwater Christmas. A rendition of “Jingle Bells,” for instance, was made specifically for the episode, performed with a steel guitar, sleigh bells, some strings and a ukulele to give the song a Polynesian touch.

But while all these aspects make the special worth watching, I admit much of their value is accentuated by my childhood nostalgia. It’s really the small details I remember the most— the idea of a Christmas below the waves: decorated coral, festive lights surrounding fish-people and ukuleles playing to the tune of traditional holiday songs —because, in my memory, those are what formed some of my childhood’s happiest moments.

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