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.
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.
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.
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.