If you’re looking to anime for the “true meaning” of Christmas, you might want to look elsewhere. But if you’re looking for a story that overflows with the joy that accompanies the season, anime might be just the place to find it. Excitable, cheery characters become all the more so when Christmas is added to the mix! This is particularly true of Natsuki in Rainbow Days, who’s caught up in the promise of the season and of the happiness that is supposed to accompany Christmas Eve, which has a romantic subtext in Japan. But over the course of two Christmases, Natsuki’s desire for romance and the disappointing results reveal that maybe this “promise” is misplaced. Or rather, maybe it is being kept, but just not where he’s looking.
Rainbow Days actually has two Christmas episodes. The series begins with one, kicking off straight away with a Christmas Eve scene. Natsuki, dumped by his girlfriend on the 24th, is handed a tissue sample by a beautiful young lady dressed as Santa. In return, he gives her the scarf that was originally intended for his girlfriend, before tearfully slinking away.
It isn’t until later episodes that we see Natsuki’s excitement leading up to that evening. He’d been dating his girlfriend for some time, and the romantic in him couldn’t wait to experience the famous Christmas Eve date!
Unfortunately, his girlfriend had others plans. Having assumed that he was rich, she dumps Natsuki once she discovers otherwise. He’s left overwhelmed and ashamed, too, because he had angrily rejected his friends when they tried to warn him about his now ex-girlfriend.
What a disappointing Christmas.
I can’t say I’ve ever been dumped on Christmas Eve, but I have felt similarly about the holiday. When I was younger, I would sometimes be disappointed by my gifts. And as I became older, the holiday just generally no longer lived up to my expectations; it wasn’t as happy as I felt it should be.
What was I looking for specifically, though? Some sort of Hallmark-style romance on Christmas? A glittering, commercial-worthy holiday meal? Presents that would fulfill a longing for cool or beautiful stuff?
I think what Natsuki and I were seeking was actually one and the same—the fulfillment of a promise. Christmas is supposed to bring us some sort of magical happiness. One iota less than that and it’s a catastrophe. Like an expensive toy that breaks immediately, Christmas can become a holiday that doesn’t work like it was supposed to.
I guess Christmas just can’t fulfill its promise, after all.
Fortunately for Natsuki, he bounces back from the doldrums more quickly than I do. He falls for Anna, the tissue-bearing Santa girl, and (spoilers ahead) even eventually begins to date her. On Christmas Eve, a year after meeting her, Natsuki goes on a date with Anna. But reminiscent of the prior year’s experience, Anna seems to abandon him, running out to do something or other and not returning for hours.
It feels like the promise of Christmas will disappoint Natsuki once again.
But Anna does eventually return—apologetically so—having retrieved a present for her date (in her shyness, she didn’t even hint to Natsuki that it would be worth the wait!). Natsuki is overcome by the evidence that she is different from his ex, that Anna is the kind and loving person that he knew her to be, and he confesses to her. He tells Anna that he loves her.
So Natsuki is able to receive the happiness that he so desperately wants from Christmas Eve. He finds it not in commercial things or sweets or even romance. After knowing Anna for a year now, he has a deeper love for her, not something superficial like he had for his ex-girlfriend or even for Anna when he first met her. He knows her and loves her, and in the moment of his confession on Christmas Eve, Natsuki feels fulfilled.
Love. That’s something I admit I too often gloss over when thinking of Christmas. My mind and heart have been invaded by decorated storefronts, sentimental Christmas movies, and the jingling anthems of the season. But the naive Natsuki is not distracted—his focus is on love.
But what Natsuki feels is just a touch of the true promise of the season. He’s experiencing just a bit of it. It’s Christmas Eve, after all, the day before the day itself, and he’s only receiving a glimpse of what the promise is all about.
What I like about Advent, the season leading up to Christmas, is that it reminds us each week for four weeks (and for those of us doing readings associated with it, every day) that there’s a promise of love that’s far greater than romance or even the stronger love that Natuski grows to feel toward Anna. Advent is a reenactment of sorts in which we remember “the thousands of years God’s people were anticipating and longing for the coming of God’s salvation, for Jesus.” It’s a love fulfilled by one who will never break his promises, and who proved this by showing us his love on Christmas Day.
The birth of Christ is remarkable in so many ways, including this: by coming for himself to dwell among us as a man, God not only fulfills the many Old Testament prophecies about his coming—showing himself trustworthy in keeping his word—but also expresses his great love for us. The great creator would lower himself to inhabit human form, even the form of a baby, to be with us.
Natsuki is searching for a human bond to fulfill him. And he’s not wrong for looking to relationship to meet his needs; he just needs to look heavenward instead.
Our earthly relationships are going to let us down. Natsuki’s ex was using him. Even Anna isn’t perfect, delaying too long and being too silent regarding her gift for Natsuki. But Christ is here to meet our every need, offering his very self in all situations. When the world is beating upon us, when our sin or the sins of others are turning our lives awry, when we can’t seem to find hope, Jesus reminds us that he is here for us. Through prayer, song, community, and scripture—which explains how we can thrive in this challenging life and also reveals the depths of his love—we can know that he is here for us. He is “God with us,” Emmanuel.
Christmas, in all its excitement, offers us this holy, perfect promise. Earthly promises may lack authenticity. They may not be perfectly kept and they can’t last forever. But the promise of Christmas is eternal. It is proven. It is unbreakable.
And if we’re seeking anything else, we do ourselves a disservice. We set ourselves up for disappointment. For the greatest love is coming, and the greatest love has already come.
What more could we desire to have this Christmas?
This post is part of an annual series entitled, “The 12 Days of Christmas Anime.” Join us from December 14th through the 25th, as each day we examine an episode of anime (or sometimes a movie, manga, or light novel!) set at Christmastime and see what it brings to mind about the holiday as celebrate the birth of Christ, who was born to set us free.