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The weather is getting chilly and the stores have put on shiny decorations. There are pine tree branches, red ribbons, and carols everywhere. If you live in a city, it will be nearly impossible to not notice what is going on. It is Christmas time! If you are an antisocial otaku, you probably aren’t looking forward to the season. But hold on a little bit. Christmas is more than just discounts and decorations.
The origin of Christmas was to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ, who according to Christianity, was the son of God. The celebrations extended from the Middle East and Rome towards the rest of the European world. What we recognize as a traditional Western Christmas, with a pine tree, presents, and a ton of delicious food, was put together in England. Combining traditions from other parts of Europe and the inspiration of Charles Dickens famous novel “A Christmas Carol”, the victorians made a memorable celebration. Once Americans adopted Christmas and created the modern image of the Red Santa Claus, well… we got a more commercialized holiday.
We already know most of this, but aren’t you curious about how is Christmas viewed and celebrated in Japan? Every country has their unique take on this celebration after all. So let’s see what we can understand about Christmas in Japan through anime. Grab your winter coats and let’s go!
Warning: This article has some spoilers. It also contains a lot of sugary (lovey-dovey) anime, so, if you are a “diabetic otaku”, read at your own risk.
What is done in a Japanese Christmas?
At first, as the climate cools down, you get decorations and lights in the streets. Some of them are really cool and creative, giving you the sensation of not being in a cold, impersonal city. There are a lot of Christmas trees formed only with lights and big department stores pull out a show in their windows. Actually, the most important difference of a Christmas in Japan is that it focuses on couples. So, it is like the whole town conspires to make warm surroundings for the love birds, who walk together in that special day despite the cold climate.
Another important difference is that Christmas is not a national holiday, so don’t expect some of the companies to give you the day off. Of course this applies to schools, too. That is why we see the anime characters at school on Christmas sometimes. New Year is still more important than Christmas in Japan, so don’t expect a long holiday at the end of December. Duty comes first, but you can relax with your significant other at night.
Now we have arrived at the important part for both believers and non-believers of the original Christmas celebration: what about the food? Well, chicken is popular in Japan on that day. As dessert, we have a cake decorated with Christmas motifs. This cake is generally a sponge cake of vanilla bread, whipped cream and strawberries, but recently, other types of cakes have also become popular.
What would we do without the kawaii Japan? The decorations in stores, restaurants, and business do not have to be simply about trees and ribbons. There is something for all tastes: plump reindeer, anime characters in Santa costumes, anime characters in red, white or gold clothes, people in Christmas kigurumis (you know, those fluffy costumes) special lines of candies in the stores… And of course, you can listen to Christmas Carols in English even on the train or other public spaces. It also helps that there is snow in several parts of Japan, so the song “White Christmas” doesn’t sound out of place. Of course, these environments influence anime too. Thus, from this point onwards, we will concentrate on how anime depicts Christmas.
That Christmas Special
Some anime that avoid Christmas celebrations strangely have opted to have a special episode dedicated to the celebration or even an entire movie, OVA, etc. It is a curiosity to watch your favorite fighting/adventure/idol heroes doing something out of character. Sometimes the worlds where they move don’t even look compatible with Christmas. You have the sensation that they fell in an alternate reality or something.
Perhaps the oldest anime special that is still remembered by the otakus is Tendo Family Christmas Scramble (1994), from Ranma ½. The Tendos live in a traditional Japanese dojo, so it is kinda strange to watch them put the whole decorations, inviting their battle allies and foes alike to the party and singing altogether (thankfully not Christmas Carols but their own original songs which were pretty popular in those years). We also have adventure shows like Vandread (2000), Chrno Crusade (2003) and Gintama (2006) with special episodes for Christmas. So yes, our favorite battling characters suddenly all get in Santa Costumes and watch snow falling in their worlds, or worry over presents.
In more recent years, we have had some popular Christmas episodes in the animes of K-On! (2009) and Idolm@ster (2011). Although these animes are mainly about music and looking for fame, at least the Christmas theme does not look as forced as in the other examples. Nevertheless, it looks like 100% Christmas celebration specials are getting less frequent in the anime world. Instead, we have it linked to friendship and romance, as we will see in the next section.
That Romantic Christmas.
We can divide this section in two big anime tendencies. The first is for those innocent people who just want to be fuzzy and warm, enjoying time with friends on Christmas. Even the anime who opt for these types of Christmas episodes tend to be for younger otakus, or following all-girl protagonists into their daily lives. Perhaps the most famous that we could remember are Azumanga Daioh (2002, episode 17) and Lucky☆Star (2007, episode 11). These two animes with spicy and/or eccentric protagonists depicted unforgettable and funny Christmas parties. On the other hand, we have examples like Ichigo Mashimaro (2005, episode 12), Minami-ke (2007, episode 12) and Gochuumon wa Usagi Desu ka? (2014, episode 11), which have more conventional and/or tender protagonists enjoying Christmas with family and friends.
However, the epitome of sugary Christmas is about romance. It is natural that anime focused on relationships have a carefully planned Christmas episode or even several of them. Look no further than with the Love Hina Christmas Special: Silent Eve (2000), which had lots of love confessions. Hachimitsu to Clover (2005, episode 4), School Rumble ni Gakki (2006, episode 19), elf: A tale of memories (2007, mainly episode 1) and Toradora! (2008, episodes 17 to 19) are well remembered for advancing a bit more of the plot on their Christmas scenes. And how about Clannad: After Story (2008) and Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu (2010)? They feature relevant Christmas scenes.
There is a difference between having a few scenes of a whole anime with Christmas motifs and having the entire anime plot during the season. That is the case of Kanon (2006). This show mixes the winter and Christmas topic combined with its sad plot so masterfully, that it makes us cry. But calm down, if you are more into the love and humor side, you can always watch the OVAs of Itsudatte My Santa! (2005) and Tokyo Marble Chocolate (2007).
If you are a fan of Christmas, friendship, love or all combined, these mentions will make you crave for an anime marathon. But what happens with the deep meaning of Christmas? Something that goes beyond the shiny decorations, giving presents in wrapped paper and spending time with your significant other. Something that demands forgiving sins, bringing salvation to humanity and starting a new. Well, let’s see our next section for that!
Anime with a deeper meaning for Christmas
They are not as abundant as the former section, but yes my dear otakus, such anime exists. When an anime happens around Christmas time but instead of hounding us with trees and Santa costumes, the anime focuses more on the human side of the matter… When an anime touches the core of who we are and how to become a better person… When a hero or heroes bring salvation and join everyone without singing a carol… That is an anime with a deeper meaning for Christmas. And the examples that we are going to mention all happen to be movies.
Bishoujo Senshi Sailor Moon S: Kaguya Hime no Koibito (1994) was a movie written by the original creator of Sailor Moon, Naoko Takeuchi. This means we can consider it canon. Anyway, we have the Senshi enjoying Christmas in the beginning, but the plot moves towards an astronomer under the name Kakeru Ozora. Luna, the cat, falls in love with him while he investigates a mysterious asteroid which turns out to be a menace for the earth. So, in this movie we have a romantic plot combined with science and what the Sailor Senshi do best: save the world with the power of love.
Gundam Wing Endless Waltz (1998) depicts what happened after the Eve Wars, where the world is making great efforts to rebuild a fragile peace. A new attempt to reignite the war against the Space Colonies will be stopped by the Gundams, their pilots and common people who join together demanding piece without violence. All of this is done in the last month of the year with snowy surroundings. This is a nice way of moving the plot for an anime that relies so much on wars.
Finally, Tokyo Godfathers (2003) by the genius Satoshi Kon, is about three homeless people who find a baby in the dumpster on Christmas Eve. They will search the entire city of Tokyo to find her mother, encountering all sorts of dangerous situations as well as kind people (including poor foreigners). They confront their pasts in the process and overcome them. Besides that, the story plays with the notion of a holly baby and the three wise men who visited him to honour him as the savior of the world. It is the best kind of Christmas story without the constant reminder that hey, it is Christmas.
After this brief review of depictions in anime, we can see that Christmas connected with romantic partners is the most frequent theme. But don’t worry, besides the examples we have mentioned, there are other animes out there to calm your Christmas craves. We would love it if you could share us more examples of Christmas themed anime in the comments. You can also tell us which anime you usually watch on the Christmas season. Remember that we are open to all your comments and suggestions. See you soon and Merry Christmas 🙂