Hetalia: Axis Powers is known for playing off the stereotypes of various countries. The series focuses on the Axis Powers personified as young men—Italty, Germany, and Japan—but many other countries are featured, too. Every episode is only about five episodes long, and they often switch between several skits during those five minutes. The Christmas episode, episode 31, is one of the few that stay focused on a single topic the entire episode. Germany, Italy, and Japan set out to write an article about how various countries celebrate Christmas.
A total of nine countries give answers. Those of you who aren’t used to Hetalia, remember: this show makes fun of everyone and is not meant to be precise in its statements, only to make humorous generalizations. I don’t know how accurately Hetalia represents the Christmas traditions of each country, but they’re worth listing:
Italy lights up a mountain, makes turkey, and gives presents either “to those who helped us” or to “all the mob bosses,” depending on whether you watch with subtitles or with the English dubbing.
Japan quietly thinks about how the stores get crazy with Christmas sales while couples get together for a romantic night.
Switzerland bursts in to tell Japan to actually speak what’s on his mind—and to proclaim, “I spend Christmas only with my family. Excuse me!”
America is next—and as an American, I take special interest. Our country’s personification proudly announces his flashy way of celebrating: lights on all the offices and houses and treats with Christmas colors! Yay! (In the English dubbed version, America says that “First we X out the Christ parts to make it Xtreme! Then we shop and eat stuff until we’re sick!”)
Russia gives a shady answer, as fits his character: his people may or may not celebrate Christmas, but if they do, it’s on January 7, and they have creepy Santa-like “Ded Moroz” dolls that supposedly come to life after 25 days.
China says that Christmas trees are illegal because of the fire hazard, but they’ve celebrated ever since Hong Kong introduced the holiday to them. (Which makes me suspect the show overlooks the Christian missionaries who have probably introduced the religious side of the holiday multiple times over the centuries.)
France says Christmas at his place is “gorgeous and romantic,” and that they serve wine to Santa Claus.
Finland talks about how his people like to go the sauna right before Christmas, then use the leftover fire from the sauna to melt tin and divine fortunes about the new year.
Germany says that Christmas markets are popular at his place. People make sweets and advent wreaths there, too—and the word “advent” is the closest any of them get to talking about the Christian history of the holiday.
The episode ends with Germany, Japan, and Italy going off to celebrate Christmas together.
It’s interesting to stop and think about how Christmas is celebrated across the globe—and even just across neighborhoods. I’d like to return to America’s characterization. Throughout the anime, America is portrayed as an enthusiastic, overconfident guy who constantly eats hamburgers and has to be The Hero in every crisis. Other countries can get annoyed with him, but it’s a good-natured show, and they don’t seem to harbor hostile feelings. This portrayal of him at Christmastime fits his usual pattern: so flashy, the other countries are taken aback. In my experience, this is certainly what our country looks like on a broader scale, although not on a family-by-family level. My dad never got into Christmas lights—way too much work. I’m in charge of cookies, and have been for the last couple years, which means no glaringly color-saturated desserts. “Flashy” doesn’t suit my temperament. I prefer a gentler approach to the holiday season: spending time with family, passing down stories and traditions to the younger generations, making cookies to share. But that doesn’t mean I’m always against flashiness. For some people, that’s a favorite way to show joy and to join in community. I try to support that.
It’s easy to believe your personal, family, or even national traditions are the “right” way to celebrate Christmas. I sense that tone from Switzerland when he bursts in to say that he just spends Christmas with family, as if that proves he has his priorities straight. And I think Christians can fall into this trap especially easily. Discussions pop up about how to keep the “Christ” in “Christmas.” People debate whether or not it’s okay to act like Santa Claus is real, and how much they should really be spending on Christmas. Then there are traditions like Advent, Christmas Eve church service… What is the “right” way to celebrate? Is there a “right” way, or at least a better way?
Perhaps some ways of celebration are more edifying than others. And perhaps Christians get more out of the season because we choose to celebrate Christ’s birth on this day. But if we get too obsessed with celebrating the “right” way, we miss out on a lot of joy and peace. Sometimes, it’s good to step back from frantically following and defending our own traditions and learn from others. I find joy in watching others enjoy Christmas their own way—even if, at the same time, it makes me sad when their celebrations exclude Christ.
So. There’s a rather serious reflection on a humorous five-minute episode. Whatever traditions you follow this week, I hope you encounter much joy, truth, and peace!
Some questions, because I’m curious: What’s your favorite Christmas tradition? What foreign traditions do you find interesting? If you’re from one of the countries addressed in this Hetalia episode, what do you think about their representation of your country’s Christmas traditions?