12 Days of Christmas, Day 7: Shirobako and a Working Christmas

Do you ever get so caught up in work—or school or life in general—that holidays and the holiday season become little more than background noise? I do. In fact, sometimes, holiday celebrations begin to feel inconvenient and impractical. See, I don’t get paid vacation days, so when a holiday lands on a weekday, I either work through it or accept the opportunity cost. And I work in the deadline-oriented field of book publishing, so if I (or, in some cases, we) have fallen behind on something that needs to be finished really soon, I might need to work on a day I would otherwise take off.

So I relate to the twelfth episode of Shirobako, “Exodus Christmas.”

Let me give you some background: Shirobako centers on Miyamori Aoi, a production assistant at an anime production company.

Shirobako and a Working Christmas | Beneath the Tangles
Aoi hard at work making sure everything is done write and on time for Exodus’s final episode.

Her job includes coordinating animators and other personnel, among many other things. So while others might be making Christmas plans and stopping to admire the pretty lights, she and her coworkers are absorbed by one goal: finish their anime, Exodus, with a strong series finale.

When Episode 12 begins, Miyamori is scrambling to find a key animator for the climax scene of the final episode. She and the rest of the team are running behind as deadlines approach. At one point, they discuss cutting corners—it would be better to have not-so-excellent animation than no episode at all.

We see the Christmas decorations on the streets as Miyamori runs her errands—but it sure doesn’t feel like the Christmas season. The characters barely slow down enough to sleep, let alone to enjoy the holiday atmosphere.

Shirobako and a Working Christmas | Beneath the Tangles

They finish the episode in time—barely. And then, during the director’s speech after the credits roll, Christmas is finally mentioned, briefly: “So, it’s Christmas time, but that’s that and this is this. Because of everyone’s hard work, we were able to safely deliver the final episode.”

Wow. Talk about flippant!

Of course, in Japan, Christmas isn’t as important as it is in the United States. The Christian population there is statistically small, so it’s not a religious holiday, and businesses often use Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as regular working days. The director’s flippancy makes a lot of sense. And, really, if I lived in Japan and weren’t Christian, I’d probably treat Christmas the same way I treat Valentine’s Day: a great excuse to eat goodies, but otherwise little more than background noise as I continue my work.

But I live in the US, and I celebrate Christmas as a time to remember Jesus’ birth. So while I’m running behind on work and blogging and cookie-baking, I need to remember to take breaks, slow down, and enjoy the season. And to stop being such a grump about Christmas music.

In fact, the first time this year that I started to feel in the Christmas spirit was at a company party I didn’t want to go to, ten days ago. I was stressed, and when I went to church that morning, I couldn’t get away from the rest of the congregation quickly enough. I needed to be alone. But I felt obligated to go to the party, so I did.

The director in Shirobako celebrates with his team.

My boss stood in front of the group at the beginning, much like the director stood in front of the crew during the Shirobako celebration. He toasted us, thanking us for all our work by name—thanking me for the new roles I’ve taken this year. I ate duck for the first time, then a chocolate dessert, and I accepted the prizes I won during trivia. Then, in the car, I switched out my BTS CD for my Disney Christmas CD. Finally, for the first time this year, I was ready to listen to forty minutes of Christmas music. I left that party inspired to work harder, feeling better about humanity and less grumpy about others’ too-peppy cheer. Strangely, receiving things helped me turn my focus from myself to something else, something bigger.

It’s easy for me to get stuck in one of two modes: Work mode or Defense mode. When I’m working and hyper-productive, I may become incapable of slowing down long enough to watch TV or a long YouTube video. I can’t focus on anything that doesn’t include constant effort and thought. This can last for days… until I exhaust myself, can’t focus on anything at all, and slip into the other mode: Defense. I work less. I try to avoid energy-draining interactions. I can’t focus on work easily. Whichever mode I get stuck in, it feels like a treadmill I can’t get off—or don’t want to get off. And so holidays, if I let them, become nothing more than annoying background noise. They distract me when I’m working, and they bring noise and “cheer” when I’m trying to defend myself against anything loud or emotional.

So this season, starting the day I first wrote this (December 11), I’ll make a point not to become so absorbed in myself and my work that I can’t celebrate Christmas with family and friends. I’ll try not to complain about the extra human interaction—no matter how stressed I am—and pray for help when my chest feels so tense, I’m not sure I can appreciate other people as they deserve. I’ll ask my coworkers if they think I should set an away message on my work email, or if people will understand when I don’t respond December 23–25. And unless there’s a big work emergency, I won’t check my email on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Instead, I’ll rest. I’ll enjoy my family. And I’ll remember that those classic Christmas songs I didn’t think I could listen to one more time actually mean something—something that’s worth listening to again and again.

12 thoughts on “12 Days of Christmas, Day 7: Shirobako and a Working Christmas

    1. Thanks, Fiona!

      Relaxing and spending time with family certainly are key parts of holidays—though, I’d argue, not quite what Christmas in particular is “all about.” There’s remembrance and honoring involved as well. At Christmas, that’s remembering and honoring Jesus Christ.

      Of course, for me, the remembering is much easier than the relaxing. I can remember any day. But setting aside days of rest and fun? That’s not so easy.

      Happy holidays, and a merry Christmas in particular!

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  1. Coincidentially, “funny story”, I´m also watching Shirobako these days: it really hits the nail about how a first job feels, and the characters are interesting. I watched episode 12 and I thought the same, not much Christmas, little match girl and all. Which is kind of sad: such a merry and hopeful season for us, and she is there working and working! In general, Aoi´s rythms of (enthusiastic) work and (rare) rest/being with family or friends/thinking about her final goal (and her cynic v. enthusiastic monologues about this) really interest me. I wonder how the series will deal with all this. I´m starting with my own first job these days in a small law firm (some of my friends in bigger firms will probably have a Shirobako Christmas), and I´ve been thinking about modes and rythms of life. I seldom enter into a work mode, but until now, I´ve been able to get good results without much effort, so I´ve realized that even when I appear to be working obsessively, I´m probably being lazy: finishing it at once so I can do nothing after, of because I did nothing before. For me, obsessive activity in general can be a kind of game, even a rest: defend a case, write a novel, see a thoughtful film or show, play a game, meet people. Toxic laziness and the other mode, a cycle of tiredness which blocks rest, I do know well. But in the Bible, weeks and saturdays, months and years, work and feast are all about the rythm of God´s good time: the 7th day is the joyful culmination of the previous work, done by God, in which we cooperate only a little. A day to rest with God and others, to contemplate, to celebrate. Likewise, Christmas and Easter culminate the year, and a time to receive God in a more special way. I´m still trying to live with a right rythm, little by little, so one day the holiday may enlight the rest of my time, and my work can be done wide awake, in an Aoi way, with humor, effort, hope, but for love and for God, the final goal. So Merry Chrismas, and may you enjoy the feast!

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    1. Thank you for commenting, Gaheret. I so appreciate your words about “the rhythm of God’s good time” and “the holiday may enlight the rest of my time.” These are such important concepts, and ones I’ve been reflecting on from time to time since shortly before Thanksgiving. God set up sabbaths and feast days for good reason. We may celebrate different holidays than the Israelites did, but much of the value (especially for the faith-related holidays) remains the same: time to reflect, rest, celebrate, and perhaps even “receive God in a more special way,” as you said.

      I’m trying to be purposeful about setting aside days of rest with God and others—be they Sundays or holidays—and I’d like to be more purposeful about setting aside smaller times of purposeful rest and contemplation on the daily basis. Balance and rhythm have never been my strong suits, though, so it’s a very slow learning process. Thus, it becomes the subject of blog posts!

      Merry Christmas to you as well!

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  2. Merry Christmas Annalyn 🙂 Great post, and I didn’t know you still listened to CD’s? I thought you were a spotify person. I haven’t listened to a CD that wasn’t a sermon in a long time haha. But I used to have tons of CDs…anyways, I am happy to read that you are growing in those areas!

    We all need to grow here and there. Christmas music for me, I truly enjoy. Something I like to do is find if my favorite artists release any Christmas albums/EPs and add them to my huge Christmas playlist on Spotify….I’m a music junkie, I need help lol.

    God bless!

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    1. Merry Christmas! And yes, I still listen to CDs, but just in the car. I sometimes listen to Spotify or Pandora in the car, but the sound’s not great, since I can’t hook it up to my speaker system. And if I want to listen to Spotify, I have to make sure I started listening while I still had a wi-fi connection—I still haven’t caved for Spotify Premium. ^_^

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      1. I see, that’s cool. Yeah, I finally have bluetooth in my car since we replaced the old one so….Spotify is on like all day or a podcast.

        For Spotify Premium….give in….you must give in to the millions upon millions of songs that we can all listen to….it is the right thing to do…you know this to be true ^_^ And Merry Christmas!

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