When I listed out the best Christmas specials over a week ago, I included the stop-motion A SpongeBob Christmas. And I stand by that as that special is pretty great. Before there was A SpongeBob Christmas, there was The SpongeBob Christmas Special. Confused? Well, there are only so many ways to title a Christmas special. To make things a bit easier (or more complicated) it’s also titled “Christmas Who?” This was a milestone episode of sorts for the now long-running SpongeBob SquarePants as it introduced Patchy the Pirate and his parrot Potty and told the story of how Christmas came to Bikini Bottom. It was also the first double-length cartoon for the show as most episodes are split into two segments. It’s probably not quite double-length though due to the live-action segments featuring Patchy, but you get the idea.
SpongeBob Squarepants was created by the late Stephen Hillenburg, who got a lot of coverage on this blog in 2020 since I went back and revisited Rocko’s Modern Life, a show he was intimately involved with. It was due to the success of that show that Nickelodeon took a chance on a cartoon headed up by Hillenburg himself. Other veterans of Rocko joined him on SpongeBob, including Tom Kenny and Doug Lawrence, and his show has largely eclipsed the former in terms of popularity. It’s probably become Nickelodeon’s most recognizable show at this point and I’m not even sure another show could really challenge it for that title at this point.
In spite of SpongeBob’s popularity, the show has mostly been a blind spot for me. The show just came at a time when I wasn’t watching the channel, and even though I have kids of my own now, they’ve yet to really latch onto anything on Nickelodeon. Maybe they will in time, though with everything moving towards a streaming format I’m less certain of that. Even though SpongeBob SquarePants isn’t my childhood, I can recognize it for what it is: a pretty solid comedic cartoon. I see a lot of influences from past cartoons in it the few times I watch it, and I’ve never really had much of a reaction to it beyond that.
Even though I’ve seen very little of SpongeBob SquarePants, I still really enjoyed the stop-motion special so I’ve always wanted to check out this one. It just took me going out of my way to make sure I saw it. Thankfully, I have cable still so I didn’t have to go out and buy this thing, and with 2020 just being a tenacious pile of misery, I actually welcomed Nickelodeon’s Christmas in July programming during the summer. That’s how I finally experienced the first SpongeBob Christmas special. Maybe it’s not the authentic, December, experience it was meant to be, but it also meant I got to re-experience it later in the year too thanks to the wonders of DVR!
After a festive rendition of the show’s theme, the special begins at the home of the president of the SpongeBob fan club: Patchy the Pirate. Played by Tom Kenny, Patchy is happily preparing for Christmas in the not idyllic setting of southern California. Even though there’s no snow to speak of, Patchy’s house is pretty well decorated and he’s got his parrot, Potty (voiced by Hillenburg) by his side as well. Patchy is a pretty conventional looking pirate, while Potty is an intentionally obvious puppet. Patchy is welcoming, like a classic holiday special would be, though he has an antagonistic relationship with his parrot. He’s in the process of making cookies, and isn’t eager to share the dough with Potty.
The segment is pretty long and probably overstays its welcome. There’s some visual jokes, like a predictable bubble pipe joke, but little truly lands. I did like that Patchy flips his eyepatch up to read a letter, revealing a perfectly functional right eye, and dons a pair of glasses with the right lens blacked out. The setup for the introduction of the cartoon is created when a letter received by Patchy asks about Christmas in Bikini Bottom, prompting Patchy to tell the audience that the dwellers of Bikini Bottom didn’t always celebrate Christmas. Before we can get to the cartoon though, Potty has to consume the cookie dough, and explode. It leads to the very bizarre image of Potty’s dismembered head suspended in the air while Patchy looks on with amusement. Poor Potty, Patchy is the asshole in this segment and yet it’s the bird who gets blown up.
The actual cartoon begins with SpongeBob (Kenny) outside the home of Sandy Cheeks (Carolyn Lawrence). Sandy is a squirrel living in the outskirts of Bikini Bottom, and being a squirrel, she needs oxygen in gas form to breath, so she lives in a bubble. SpongeBob is looking to infiltrate the bubble to drop some karate moves on her. I assume this is supposed to be a good-natured prank as SpongeBob doesn’t have a mean pore in his body.
As SpongeBob prepares to enter the bubble, he notices Sandy lighting up a tree with lights. Mistaking this for fire (he’s not very smart), SpongeBob grabs a bucket of water and races inside only to douse Sandy herself. She’s rightfully annoyed, but soon realizes that SpongeBob has never seen a Christmas tree before. Not only has he never seen one, he’s never even heard of Christmas before. We then receive a montage of Sandy explaining Christmas to SpongeBob. We don’t actually hear what she’s telling him and can only see her pantomiming various parts of her lesson, most of which appear to have nothing to do with a discussion on Christmas (that’s the joke).
SpongeBob is quite taken with the whole concept of Christmas (and who wouldn’t be?) and races over to The Krusty Krab to inform the others what Sandy has taught him. There he regales Squidward (Rodger Bumpass), Patrick (Bill Fagerbakke), and Mr. Krabs (Clancy Brown) a tale of Christmas with emphasis on Santa Claus. Mr. Krabs thinks it’s pretty great to hear about a guy who will give you whatever you want for Christmas and he’s eager to write a letter to the jolly, fat, man. Patrick is equally excited and sets out to write a letter to Santa as well.
Squidward is the lone holdout. He finds the story preposterous and refuses to participate. SpongeBob tries to talk him into it, but he’s not coming around. All the while, Patrick keeps interrupting their conversation because his piece of paper has split in half. After he requests a new page a few times, we see what’s causing the problem. Patrick is sitting down with the pencil in between his legs pointing up. He then presses the paper down against the pencil in order to write on it. I’m now curious if he often has problems with the written word in other episodes.
After the letter-writing is over, SpongeBob shows Patrick the machine he’s come up with to deliver the letters to Santa. They place each letter in a bottle and the machine fires it up to the surface of the ocean. It (shockingly) works just fine, and SpongeBob starts sending the letters to the surface. For his gift, he just wants to bring Christmas to Bikini Bottom, but the others want something more material. Patrick wishes to have more paper, and the message in his bottle is clearly ripped in half, while Mr. Krabs wants a pony…with saddlebags full of money. He gets it!
The other townsfolk get involved too and soon the surface of the water above Bikini Bottom is full of letters. Squidward is still holding out, and SpongeBob and Patrick get set to making the town look merry for Christmas via song. It’s called “The Very First Christmas,” and it’s plenty catchy. It’s not as good as “Don’t Be a Jerk,” but it’s fine. During the song, we see SpongeBob and Patrick chop down Squidward’s coral “tree” to set it up in town and decorate it with glowing jellyfish. Patrick is a natural fit for the top of the tree as the star.
When the song is over, Squidward is relieved that he can now peacefully go to bed. Only he can’t, because the entire town is outside his house to sing another song welcoming Santa. It’s basically “Jingle Bells” only with the words changed to reflect their Santa-eagerness. Time passes though, and as Squidward sleeps peacefully the folks outside sing all night to no avail. When the morning comes, everyone is still there, but there’s been no sign of Santa. The crowd angrily turns on SpongeBob, who shrinks before their gaze.
Squidward rises to the misery, and is delighted! When the crowd leaves, he races outside to taunt SpongeBob about how wrong he was about Santa. SpongeBob doesn’t put up a defense and just stands there looking miserable. Squidward snaps a photo to remember this moment, and for some reason he gets off by putting his ass in SpongeBob’s face and slapping it. The cartoon literally tells us he’s being a jackass by superimposing an image of a donkey over him.
With Squidward’s antics mostly over, SpongeBob hands over the gift he made for him. SpongeBob was concerned that Squidward would be the only member of Bikini Bottom to not receive a present since he didn’t write a letter to Santa so he made him one instead. SpongeBob drags himself away leaving a stunned Squidward to stand there alone holding his gift. He opens it to find a clarinet that SpongeBob had made himself and instantly feels bad. Meanwhile, SpongeBob is miserable as he begins to take down the Christmas decorations he put on his own house as well as Squidward’s.
Uncharacteristically, Squidward decides he needs to make things right. He goes home and puts on a Santa costume. I have no idea why he had such a costume in his house, but hey, it’s needed for the plot! He calls out to SpongeBob from his roof, before falling, leaving SpongeBob stunned with silent glee.
Squidward gets SpongeBob to snap out of his trance long enough to tell him he’s here to thank SpongeBob for bringing Christmas to Bikini Bottom. He has to endure a pair of hugs from SpongeBob, but the exchange goes well for Squidward as SpongeBob heads back to his house. Feeling pretty good about himself, Squidward turns to enter his own home, but a little girl is standing in his way. She asks for her gift, and SpongeBob then reappears to encourage “Santa” to bestow a gift on this deserving young girl. Not knowing what else to do, Squidward ducks into his house for a present and ends up giving away a monkey wrench.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t solve Santa Squid’s problem. A line of citizens has formed outside of his house and they all want a present. He goes in and out of his house getting items and gifting them to the people outside. They’re never what is asked of Santa, but the fish receiving them make do with what they have. They all seem to leave pretty happy, but they also leave behind an empty house for Squidward.
With the crowd gone, Squidward removes his costume and wonders why in the world he just got rid of all of his personal belongings just to make SpongeBob happy. Oh Squidward, you just got caught by the Spirit of Christmas! A knock on the door comes from SpongeBob, who excitedly tells Squidward all about Santa, apparently oblivious to the fact that it was Squidward he encountered and not the real Santa. He mostly keeps repeating that Santa has a really big nose, though Squidward seems to take this all in stride.
When SpongeBob finally returns home, Squidward notices a letter has been left outside his door. It’s from Santa! It thanks Squidward for bringing Christmas to Bikini Bottom, though makes no excuse for why Santa passed them by. Squidward can hardly believe it, but sure enough, up in the…sky?…is Santa in his sleigh. He’s portrayed with a live-action actor, played by Michael Patrick Bell, and he does a lot of “Ho ho ho’s” and waves. Squidward thinks he’s going insane and returns to his empty house. He breaks out his lone material possession, the clarinet SpongeBob gifted him, and seems to enjoy insanity. Above, we see Santa fly in front of a setting sun.
At Patchy’s house, the special is over. He’s acting out some sea wreck thing and we interrupt him. He finds a present from a reassembled Potty has been left on his head, a nest full of wrapped eggs. Patchy doesn’t seem too interested and is more focused on the mistletoe hanging in his home. He stands under it hoping a woman will magically appear and give him a kiss, but instead Potty comes soaring in to do the honors. The episode ends with Patchy basically running from the sex-crazed puppet. The special ends on an external shot of Patchy’s ranch with a “Happy Holidays” message spelled over it.
The SpongeBob Christmas Special is a pretty satisfying piece of Christmas comedy. It starts with a solid premise, and then does a good job of playing with the viewer’s expectations. Squidward was setup to be a Scrooge, and I even found his choice of pajamas to be very Scrooge-like. I thought for sure we were going full parody when he went to sleep on Christmas Eve, but instead we got something very different. Squidward had to learn on his own that wishing misery upon others really doesn’t bring about good feelings in himself. It was sweet to see him affected by SpongeBob’s sadness, and he actually had to learn about Christmas the hard way when he gave all of his stuff away to maintain his ruse. I liked that he wasn’t rewarded with anything material in the end, he just did what was necessary (albeit, in a comedically exaggerated fashion), and found the true meaning of Christmas within himself.
The odd part of the special is the fact that Santa apparently planned all of this? Did he decide to fulfill SpongeBob’s wish through Squidward? Or maybe we’re supposed to assume that SpongeBob’s unorthodox way of getting everyone’s letters to Santa was simply a flop? SpongeBob did wait until the last minute to get those letters out and Santa is only capable of so many miracles.
The part of the special that didn’t add much for me was the live-action component. I just don’t find Patchy all that funny. I’m also not 7, so maybe it’s just not for me. The cartoon was entertaining, just that component felt a bit long. It doesn’t ruin it or anything, I could just do without.
This Christmas special isn’t as good as the one that follows, but it’s plenty entertaining for an annual viewing. And I feel confident in saying that anyone who likes SpongeBob probably enjoys this episode too. If you have cable, this one should be very to easy to view even this late in the game. It’s possibly available for streaming on Nickelodeon’s website, and it may even air today! It’s also available on various holiday themed DVDs and as part of the second season of the show. It’s also available digitally because it’s SpongeBob, one of the most accessible shows around. If you have yet to view it this year then find 20 minutes today and rectify that.