The Spirit of Christmas is the name of two different animated short films made by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, who would later become famous for creating the animated series South Park. To differentiate the two, they are often referred to as Jesus vs. Frosty and Jesus vs. Santa.
Jesus vs. Frosty
In 1992, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, and students at the University of Colorado, made Jesus vs. Frosty, under the "Avenging Conscience Films" moniker. Parker and Stone animated the film using only construction paper, glue, and a very old 8 mm film camera, and premiered the film at the December 1992 student film screening. The movie features four kids who are very similar of the four main characters of South Park, including a character resembling Cartman, but called "Kenny", and three nameless boys resembling Kyle, Stan, and Kenny. The film also includes some classical South Park ingredients, including a hilarious story-line, strong language, graphic violence and a 'moral' at the end.
The story is that the four kids build a snowman and, in the vein of "Frosty the Snowman", put a magic silk hat on it to make it come to life. Unfortunately Frosty turns out to be evil and deranged, sprouting huge tentacles and kills Kenny (the Cartman-resembling boy). This leads Kyle to be the first to utter the famous line: "Oh my god! Frosty killed Kenny!". The boys go to Santa Claus for help, but it's Frosty in disguise, and he kills the character who resembles Kenny (as we know him from the TV-series). The two remaining kids run away, and then find a nativity scene with a baby Jesus, who flies to the evil snowman and kills it by slicing off the magic hat with his halo. After seeing this, one of the boys says another known line: "You know, I learned something today". The two kids realize the true meaning of Christmas: presents. So, as a deer nibbles on the Cartman-resembling boy, they go to their homes to find the presents hidden by their parents.
This film has been referenced in South Park episodes, such as "The Simpsons Already Did It", where at the very beginning Stan says "Ok; now put the nose on it, Tweek" and Tweek replies "But what if by putting on the nose the snowman comes to life and kills me?" to which Stan says, "Tweek, when has that ever happened? Except for that one time." It was also referenced in the season six Christmas special: "Red Sleigh Down", where in the middle of the episode the four boys say "Jesus!" and shake their heads side-to-side in exactly the same way that the Stan and Kyle-resembling boys did in the short film.
Jesus vs. Santa
In 1995, Fox Broadcasting Company executive Brian Graden paid Stone and Parker $2000 to make another animated short as a video Christmas card he could send to friends. In turn, the duo created Jesus vs. Santa. This version of The Spirit of Christmas featured an animation style very similar to South Park, as well as more developed versions of Stan, Kyle, Cartman and Kenny (and a cameo appearance of a girl looking exactly like Wendy Testaburger, sitting on Santa's lap). It largely established the characters as they would be used in South Park. The movie also contains elements which would re-occur in the series, like Kyle being Jewish, and rats eating Kenny's corpse. The film reportedly had a budget of $750, with Parker and Stone keeping the rest of their commission. The making of the short was parodied in the South Park episode "A Very Crappy Christmas".
The story differs largely from Jesus vs. Frosty: Jesus descends to South Park where he meets the kids. He asks them to take him to the local mall, where he finds Santa. Turns out that Jesus has a bone to pick with "Kringle" - according to Jesus, Santa diminishes the memory of Jesus' birthday with his presents. Santa is aware of the feud, and claims that "this time", they will "finish it". They stand up for a fight (accompanied by sounds and music from Mortal Kombat 3), and they duke it out, accidentally killing various bystanders (including Kenny) in the process. Jesus pins Santa down, and they both ask the boys to help them. Stan hesitates, and wonders: "What Would Brian Boitano do?" (this is later parodies as a song in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut) The figure skater miraculously appears and holds a speech about how Christmas should be about being good to each other. The boys transmit the message to the fighters, who ashamedly agree and decide to bury the hatchet over an orange smoothie. Just like in Jesus vs. Frosty, the boys realize the true meaning of Christmas: presents. Kyle remarks that if you're Jewish, you get presents for eight days! The others decide to become Jewish too and, while rats are eating Kenny's corpse, leave the scene.
Graden initially distributed the video to 80 friends in December 1995, one of the friends rumored to be George Clooney. Brian Boitano ended up getting a hold of the tape, and was apparently flattered by his depiction. After months of being passed around on bootleg video and the Internet, the film caught the attention of cable network Comedy Central. The network hired the pair to develop South Park, which premiered in the USA on August 13, 1997.
In 1997, Jesus vs. Santa received a Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for best animation.