My most memorable Christmas was the one midway through my 5th grade year. My dad has been absent the year previous as a soldier at war in the Middle East, but our family was now reunited. In addition there was just something about that time of my life, the glory of childhood I suppose.
That year was also the deathknell for my visions of Santa. I learned the previous year, tearfully, that he no longer existed, but confirmation came a year later when I discovered the stash of Christmas toys for the first time in advance of their wrapping and placing under the tree. I was devastated and also felt incredibly guilty. Although it was the “most” gifts I’d ever received and everything I wanted that year (and while photos of the event showed an extremely happy boy with his presents, perhaps in an compensating way), something was off. I wasn’t satisfied with day. I was left wanting.
In Toradora, the fine and still-extremely watchable anime romance, that idea of being left wanting during Christmas also abounds. The series doesn’t go light in its holiday episodes, as many series do—it goes big, deep, and sad, with a three-episode arc that sets the stage for the final episodes of the series. In pushing forward toward a finale tinged by melancholy, and with the theme of “unfulfilled expectations” in mind, episode 17 begins with Taiga anticipating Christmas, atypically full of cheer and excited to be an “angel of love,” giving both to youngsters in need and to her friend, Ryuuji, who is still pining after Minorin.
But Taiga is not the only one with expectations. The entire class is expecting happiness and relief at the Christmas party following their final exams. Ryuuji continues to expect love. Ami is expecting Ryuuji to get a clue, hoping that he will make a clean break with both her and Minori and choose Taiga. And Minori—well, she’s just struggling.
In fact, Minori’s struggles increase more and more as this arc stretches out. Her first scene, in contrast to Taiga’s, shows a failure in a softball game, and the “hits” just keep on coming as she fouls a ball off during practice that knocks down the class’ Christmas tree, destroying the festive mood that had been set as they worked hard to put it up, and making her best friend’s precious ornament come crashing to the ground. Distraught at all that’s happening, and particularly at her growing concern as the choice between fulfilling her growing affection for Ryuuji or helping her friend Taiga, whom she knows harbors feelings for him, too, Minori decides not to attend the Christmas party. She does eventually acquiesce due to Taiga’s personal pleading, but then rejects Ryuuji outright after discovering once and for all that Taiga is in love with him as well.
Everyone, during this particular Christmas, expects much but gets little or nothing. The entire class enjoys the party, but several openly opine about the lack of romance (even if they get an eyeful of Ami and Taiga singing in their evening gowns). Their teacher takes a real estate class as she tries to embrace the single life she doesn’t want. Taiga wants Ryuuji. Ryuuji thinks he wants Taiga. Ami wants Ryuuji or at least, closure. And Minori wants Ryuuji, too. No one is left joyful, happy, or at peace, hammered home by a montage showing all the sad characters, even as Ami and Taiga sing about love and a “holy, holy night.”
But would they be happy if they did get what they want? I think the episode (and in fact, the rest of the series) shows that nothing is perfect. And if Toradora could go on and on, it would likely continue to tread that line of “real life,” demonstrating that getting what we want isn’t enough; we always desire more. At least I know I do. I did on that Christmas long ago—I wasn’t fulfilled by getting every single gift on my Christmas list. I was left listless, guilty and unfulfilled.
I wonder if you feel similarly this Christmas. I usually do. After all the festivities, something is missing. There’s so much pressure put on this day, and it becomes a microcosm of life—we want, we get, we want more. For met, at least, the things I receive, whether by gifting or earning or just purchasing, only temporarily fill me. The bigger the gift, the longer the high lasts, but it always goes away.
As teenagers, the cast of Toradora, even those as mature as Ami, desire that “high” of getting what they want. Although I’m older, I still live similarly. It feels immature, but I work hard to get money so that I can live in comfort. I purchase what I “need,” which are rather those things that I think will help me be happy. And like those teens trying to carve their own paths, Ryuuji toward Minori and Taiga toward Yusaku, I’m not on the path toward gaining what it is that will give me an enduring satisfaction.
These ideas have been on mind lately, even before rewatching the Toradora Christmas episodes. This year, as I continue to age, I’ve been looking toward someone even older than me. Simeon, in the Nunc Dimittis, presents the very image of a man fulfilled, but also of one like me, a man desiring everything:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
Having held the baby Jesus in his arms, Simeon is ready to go to heaven. He’s done. His life is fulfilled. There’s nothing more to want.
Taiga, too, holds on to her love and for a moment, before she retreats into the problems of the world, she has peace. There’s nothing more important to her than whose in her arms.
As I reach for the things of this world, I’m reminded this season that the more I reach for, the more empty I am. I make more money than I once did, and most things I’d like are within my reach, but each item I bring to myself reveals an emptiness inside all the more. The more I have, the more I lack.
Today, I’m praying that I remember that being poor is what I should long for—poor in spirit, longing for just one thing, to hold the baby Jesus in my arms, or rather, to hold Christ dear to my heart.
I haven’t heard it this season, but “The Little Drummer Boy” gets it just right. I want everything, and in my blindness, I miss that He gave everything, giving himself as a baby in the manger some two millennia ago, and as the boy in the song does, I can offer one good thing to him, a gift that he, too, would love: I can offer him my all. I can offer him my heart.
This season, my prayer for you is the same as for myself, that you would desire the baby in the manger more than any other gift, and that your gift in return isn’t diamonds or gold, service or a tithe: It’s your heart. After all, that’s what it’s all about.
Toradora can be streamed on Crunchyroll.