This will be a little bit like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Japanese cultural norms don’t precisely line up with our Western traditions when it comes to Christmas. Since anime is largely a reflection of Japanese norms and traditions, there is a little bit of a blending of the Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. So I’m going to do my best to align what I’ve seen in anime with our expectations of the holiday season. These holiday-inspired anime episodes are a must watch with Christmas right around the corner.
Warning: Minor spoilers may be present in the individual stories about Christmas time in the following animes, but I will do my utmost to avoid ruining major arcs.
Sword Art Online
A familiar storytelling/time-telling tool in the world of RPGs is to use real world holidays and seasons in the game. The floating castle in the sky, Aincrad, reflects real world time to its players to give them a little clue as to how much time has passed since they became trapped in the death game. As viewers of SAO, our first glimpse of the Christmas season is when Kirito goes after Nicholas the Renegade in an attempt to earn a valuable drop item.
This side story (Season 1, Episode 3) begins with Kirito’s first attempt to be a part of a guild. At first, it is wildly successful as he saves a group of friends from imminent death in a labyrinth. We see the psychological toll that only 5 short months trapped in the game have put on the players, but Kirito’s strength emboldens the little guild. Disaster strikes when the group triggers a trap and even Kirito’s promise to protect Sachi falls short.
Kirito can only put hope in the rumor that an item will drop from the special Christmas season boss, Nicholas the Renegade, which will revive a fallen comrade. He goes it alone against a twisted version of Santa Clause in the pursuit of something that he cannot share. If Nicholas rewards him with an item to resurrect his friend, he cannot take the risk that another will take the item from him. The good news is that the Divine Stone of Returning Soul isn’t a rumor; the bad news is that it cannot revive a player dead as long as Sachi has been dead.
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid is gracious enough to give us two episodes (Season 1, Episodes 10 & 11) to show off both sides of the holiday. With much of the overall story devoted to showing how dragon visitors learn how to live in a human world, it makes sense that this anime spends time sharing our favorite holidays. What better way to learn than by experiencing Christmas and New Year’s.
Tohru volunteers to put on a holiday play for a retirement home and enlists all her friends to help out. They select a quintessential holiday story – The Little Match Girl by Hans Christian Anderson. Though through dragon shenanigans, the story is ramped up beyond normal expectations. All are entertained if a little confused at Tohru’s script changes. On the side, we get to see Kanna learn about Santa – including Tohru magically adding a chimney to their apartment so that Santa can come bring Kanna presents.
In the second holiday episode we get more about the New Year’s traditions. Kobayashi and crew enjoy the festivities over her holiday break. They make mochi and share with their neighbors. They go out to the festival – try all the food, wear kimonos, and get their New Year’s fortunes. Eventually they watch the first sunrise of the New Year and Kobayashi shares otoshidama (New Year’s money) with Tohru & Kanna.
The holiday story (Season 1, Episode 10) in Noragami leans more towards the tradition of shrine visits for the New Year. There is a link between the act of asking Santa for a gift and petitioning the gods for help in the coming year. In a way we’re asking for something in exchange for something else on our behalf (good behavior or an offering).
Hiroyi invites Yato and Yukine to make a shrine visit on the last day of the year. She is dressed in a yukata and armed with wishes for herself and her friends on the far shore. But the malevolent forces keep Yato from making the date resulting in Hiroyi being attacked in his absence.
Hiroyi’s plea to the gods is answered, just not by the one she expected. Yato and Yukine risk their existence to save Hiroyi and her memories of them. Ultimately Hiroyi’s wishes come true – she is able to stay with her friends – happy, safe and sound.
Well I did my best to tie together these two holidays with how they are presented with expectedly heavy Japanese traditions and what we’re familiar with around Christmas time. I’m hopeful you enjoyed this piece and that you’ll go buy some awesome anime with any leftover Christmas (or New Year’s) money!
(Featured Image: Amino Apps)