Unlike Christmas in western cultures, Christmas in Japan is a little different. As Shinto and Buddhism remain the dominant religions, it is not a religious holiday, but rather more of a romantic one. As Japan is a culture that tends to pick some of the world’s favorite things and adapt them as their own when it comes to the holidays, Christmas isn’t totally foreign. Children get gifts from parents, Christmas lights go up, and Santa is still a key figure.
However, for teens and adults, Christmas is about spending the holidays with lovers. Couples go out on Christmas Eve for romantic dates and get special gifts. Those without loves spend their time with friends eating cake and fried chicken or go to Christmas parties.
As it is such a commercial holiday, not unlike Valentine’s Day over in the west, anime is not immune from the Christmas. Many series feature Christmas specials, if not as an episode in the series, but an actual separate OVA or special. They are not only fertile ground for relationship developments in the series, but they can really help you get into the Christmas spirit.
Christmas is pretty important for all KEY shows, but while Clannad and Kanon have some sappy, silly Christmas episodes, Angel Beats is a little different. Their Christmas episode isn’t about the group celebrating it, but rather happens in a flashback of the main character. In it, he takes his sickly sister out to see the decorated streets for Christmas. As wheelchairs don’t function in the snow as well, he carries her on his back. It is a perfect sweet moment to really drive the overall sadness of the flashback home.
When you watch Christmas episodes in anime, you will find that they all are pretty idealized about what the holiday should be. However, one of the more realistic examples comes from, of all shows, Himouto! Umaru-Chan. In its Christmas episode, it still has some of its silly pop culture trappings, but in its heart, it is about what is most likely a more realistic Japanese Christmas. When plans are derailed by having to work overtime, Umaru-chan, her brother, and their friends try to make the best of what is left of the special day. It’s not particularly exciting, but strangely impactful.
Polar Bear Café
Um, so… There are few things more adorable that watching animals dressed up in Christmas costumes. That’s pretty much the only reason to watch it. They deal with typical Christmas dilemmas, and look awesome while doing it.
Kimi ni Todoke
Of course one of the sweetest series in the romance genre would need a solid Christmas episode. In it, Sawako really wants to spend Christmas with her friends, particularly Kazehaya, but Christmas is also a special family holiday for her. Her Dad in particular has grown particularly attached to it and she doesn’t want to disappoint him. Because it is a family holiday for her who has never had friends to spend it with, it strangely mirrors the conflictions that would happen for western watchers if they wanted to spend the holiday with friends instead of family.
At this point, Gintama has a few Christmas episodes, and all of them are equally insane. The best one? The one where Santa and his super ripped reindeer consider giving up on Christmas, so naturally, Gintoki has to bring the Christmas spirit back and teach them the true meaning. It’s like the weirdest Charlie Brown special ever.
Although not part of the series, Usagi Drop released a bonus episode that is all about Rin and Daikichi preparing for their first Christmas together. It is one of the few Christmas specials that focus on the family aspect of Christmas that happens between parents and children when they are younger and still believe in the magic that is Santa. However, instead of being chaotic and full of problems, it is a more calm version of the ideal Christmas.
Lucky Star is just an anime about girls talking about stuff, and their Christmas episode is much of the same…Except Christmas-themed. They talk about everything from gift giving to Santa, odd cakes to bust sizes and all ways to spend Christmas in between.
For as much as I personally loathe Big O, there is one charming thing is does have going for it – its Christmas episode. The mecha genre has more Christmas episodes than you’d expect, and they are all pretty decent quality considering they often contain more serious themes juxtaposed with holiday cheer. However, Big O didn’t really do that. Instead they had their giant mech fight a giant Christmas tree, and there is nothing wrong about that. Oh, and aside from that spectacle, the episode is, admittedly, a good set up for a touching moment between two near-emotionless characters.
Love Hina released two specials, but the Christmas one is top-notch as far as Christmas specials in anime go. As Love Hina is built upon the foundations of frustration, love, and misunderstood situations, they use the romantic Christmas setting to push it to the extreme. Both Naru and Keitaro fumble with both gift-giving and admitting their feelings in a special that ends up being full of drama. While their feelings remain undeclared, it does provide a satisfying conclusion for the main couple who overcome all obstacles to spend Christmas together.
Often cited as one of the most popular Christmas-themed storyline, Toradora dedicated three episodes building up around Christmas time. While there is conflict initially, like Minani breaking Taiga’s beloved Christmas star with an errant baseball, as everyone prepares for the class Christmas party, things start looking up.
One of the highlights of this small holiday arc is when Ryuuji surprises Taiga by dressing up as Santa (in a bear suit), unfortunately things take a turn for a bittersweet after that with Ryuuji taking off to give his gift to Minami and Taiga’s feelings for him exploding out of her. No one accomplishes anything they set out to do, and everyone ends up sad, which pretty much sums up most holidays.
Itsudatte My Santa!
While not having one particular Christmas episode, Itsudatte My Santa is one big Christmas episode. It is a Christmas-themed anime about a boy born on Christmas Eve named Santa. He hates Christmas, but that all turns around when he meets a Santa-in-training named Mai from the Santa Clause Academy. It’s bizarre, it’s romantic, and it is a perfectly weird way to enjoy Christmas. It is also made by the same creator who did Love Hina, so expect similar humor.
What is the best thing to watch on Christmas? Lucky for you, it is not a whole series, but a movie. A Satoshi Kon movie! While Satoshi Kon loved to play with psychological elements, he set them by the wayside when he created Tokyo Godfathers.
It follows three homeless folks in Tokyo who end up finding an abandoned baby on Christmas Eve. This sends them on an adventure to find its mother and leads them to all of Tokyo’s strangest characters. It’s funny, it’s poignant, and it is filled with character drama, which likely sums your Christmas holiday right up.
You have any more Christmas anime recommendations? There are a lot of Christmas episodes out there, let us know your favorites in the comments section below.