12 Days of Christmas, Day 11: Illumine your hearts. (Non)Christmas at Tearmoon Empire

In the name of the Very holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

To-day, the 25th day of December, 1792, I, Louis XVI King of France, being for more than four months imprisoned with my family in the tower of the Temple at Paris, by those who were my subjects, and deprived of all communication whatsoever, even with my family, since the eleventh instant; moreover, involved in a trial the end of which it is impossible to foresee (…) and having no other witnesses, for my thoughts than God to whom I can address myself, I hereby declare, in His presence, my last wishes and feelings.

Louis XVI, King of France

Things change. After a Christmas of joy, there might be a Christmas of sorrow. The King of France, the great political and military power of the late XVIIIth Century, would die by the guillotine less than a month after writing these words. After going through hell, his wife, the young Marie Antoinette of Austria, would follow the same fate in October of that year. Their heir, Louis Charles, would survive for another year. Their tragedy, hers especially, has inspired songs, movies, books, anime, and… light novels, too.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoniette, as depicted in the shoujo classic “Rose of Versailles” (1972).

In Tearmoon Empire, Mia Luna Tearmoon is the daughter, rather than the wife, of the most powerful of Emperors, likewise condemned to the guillotine. Mia is “rather lazy and extremely frivolous; she is hard to teach,” as Mathieu-Jacques de Vermond, Marie Antoinette’s tutor, once said of his royal pupil. Like the French Queen, Mia’s name has also become hateful for her people, who accuse her of lavish excess and of being the root of all the evils of the country.

Unlike her historical inspiration though, when the heavy blade of iron falls, Mia is sent eight years back in time to before the crisis began and is given the opportunity to show a different aspect of herself. For, just as Mathieu-Jacques de Vermond came to realize about Marie Antoinette, Mia is actually “more intelligent than has been generally supposed”, and deep down, “her character, her heart, are excellent” (de Vermond’s words)—despite anything the narrator might say to the contrary. And now, she has a chance to show it.

Having experienced the endgame, Mia now sees everything differently. Going back to the anime-style royal Academy of Saint-Noel, “Holy Christmas”, she now knows that certain people who seemed attractive and desirable to her the first time around are actually dangerous. She also knows that certain ones who appeared insignificant to her are actually valuable and important. And little by little, she changes her ways.

Mia, in the trailer of “Tearmoon Empire” (2023).

The change doesn’t happen in an instant, but it’s aided by the same mysterious power that saved her life. She discovers that she is involved in a secret war between good and a horrifying, all-consuming evil that is hidden in plain sight. And as she begins to fight in this unseen battle, she finds friendship, duty, love, and the previously unmet potential of the reality in which she had otherwise been existing blindly. Her resulting transformation is oddly like the change in Scrooge or the Grinch when they encounter the light of Christmas.

In volume 5 of Tearmoon Empire, we learn that Saint-Noel’s biggest annual event is, very fittingly, the Holy Eve Festival. This is the non-exactly-Christmas of the not-exactly-Christian world where Mia lives, described thus: “Based on the story of the Holy Deity descending to the mortal realm and bestowing the light of hope upon man, the festival’s purpose was to express that year’s worth of gratitude for His Holiness.”

And what did this festival entail, exactly? “Held during the first week of the last month of each year, it consisted of a solemn candlelight mass followed by a lively celebration. During the mass, everyone gathered at the altar, each holding a wooden lamp. A traditional list of hymns was sung before Rafina gave a sermon. At the end of the service, everyone would go outside and throw their lamps onto a bonfire, causing it to grow from an ember to a great, blazing flame. The ritual represented the light of hope from God illuminating the earth.” 

When the Mass ended, the party began, and the festivities would continue throughout the night with friends chatting, merchants coming and going, and an atmosphere of joy alongside the good food.

Mia, as depicted in the Light Novel.

This is, more or less, what my own Christmas looks like. Because, you see, the Catholic Nativity Mass is also a “Mass of Light” that celebrates the light of hope brought to us by God’s Incarnation and references this theme throughout all its liturgy. My family celebrates it together with our parish community on Christmas Eve, and afterward, we have the feast.

Advent is dark. Dark purple ornaments, dark purple clothes for the priest, no flowers on the altar, no “Gloria” prayer before the readings, one to four candles, personal penitence, and preparation. But Christmas is a light in the darkness, a day of fire, white and gold. And we sing or pray before the altar: “O God, who have made this most sacred night / radiant with the splendor of the true light, / grant, we pray, that we, who have known the mysteries of his light on earth…”

Marie Antoinette and Louis, too, had their royal banquet on Christmas Eve, but they attended three Masses, not one. These were the same ones that exist today. At night, the liturgy of the first mass follows the angels, marveling at the Word made flesh, born of the Virgin Mary. The second, Dawn Mass, follows the shepherds hurrying to the stable to adore the newborn King. And the third celebrates the Eternal Word made Flesh, using the Gospel of St. John.

Louis XVI and Marie Antoniette, “Rose of Versailles”.

But the liturgical peculiarities don’t end there. As with Easter, the next eight days are days of repetition: every Mass celebrates Christmas again, and says again and again: “Christ the Lord is born today; today the Savior has appeared….” Why? Well… “When a feast comes, the soul is amazed and not quite prepared to think profoundly upon its mystery; but on the following days the mind finds it easy to consider the mystery from all sides, sympathetically and deeply.” 

Tearmoon Empire is a story of lessons sinking in. Mia was saved by a stunning miracle. At first, she reacted in disbelief, with rushed, comical actions born of her survival instinct. But living through event after event for the second time, she starts to truly internalize what happened.

She begins to discover that the source of the miracle is the Holy Deity, and that there is a mission for her to accomplish. She realizes that she has received new hope, and a way out of her deeply unsatisfying life, one that ended in tragedy and, tellingly enough, had seen her waste the Holy Eve festival waiting for a boy who had no interest in her. She begins, at last, to truly see.

Mia, in the Light Novel.

The Holy Eve ritual of St. Noel in Tearmoon Empire gives her the chance to do this. It is fundamentally a call to common offering and thanksgiving to God, that is, a call to rediscover and value the new life she has been given and the One who gave it to her, and to know that the people around her are included in this new life. 

Liturgy, or the common prayer of a people, helps us to do the same. The loving dialogue between God and His Chosen People is now celebrated by Christ as the One Who offers Himself to His Father, including in His offering the whole Church. And it helps us to reflect profoundly on and dwell in the living mystery.  

We are bodily beings, and speaking, listening, singing, taking part in or watching ritual actions such as lighting candles, kneeling, standing, seeing light, color, fire, oil, water—these motions help us to slow down and rest in the deep truths about who God is, living them in different ways, from different angles. So do, in a different way, our personal practices and celebrations, music, food, presents, decorations, and images. We use all the means in our power, with the assistance of God, to truly see.

Mia, in the trailer of “Tearmoon Empire” (2023).

To see what, though? Well, remember how both the Holy Eve Festival and the Mass on Christmas Eve are feasts of light? We come to see that, whatever the appearances, we too are like Mia. Saved from a grisly fate and fighting monstrous evil, we yet have hope because God has come: “Today you will know that the Lord will come, and he will save us, and in the morning you will see his glory.”

Like Mia, throughout our lives in faith, we learn to recognize that the seemingly attractive, essential things and people we were desperate to reach sometimes were dangerous, while insignificant, unsightly realities are revealed by the light of God to be valuable and important. Things change, empires rise and fall, and the mighty of this world fade and are replaced. But there is an eternal light shining from Bethlehem, one whose splendor reaches even beyond the Christian world. Christ is with us, and He will fight for us.

And thus, even when everything falls apart, our hearts will be able to see. And perhaps they will say, along with Louis XVI at his last Christmas,

I beseech those who have the kindness to join their prayers to mine, to obtain pardon from God for my sins. I pardon with all my heart those who made themselves my enemiesI pray God particularly to cast eyes of compassion upon my wife, my children, and my sister, who suffered with me for so long a time, to sustain them with His mercy if they shall lose me, and as long as they remain in his mortal world.

Louis and Marie Antoinette, “Rose of Versailles”.

I leave my soul to God, my creator; I pray Him to receive it in His mercy, not to judge it according to its merits but according to those of Our Lord Jesus Christ who has offered Himself as a sacrifice to God His Father for us other men, no matter how hardened, and for me first.

Most things change, but some do not. After a Christmas of joy, there might be a Christmas of sorrow. After a Christmas of light, there might be one of prison and pain. But it will still be Christmas, because Christ, the Light, has truly come to us, bringing the Love that never ends and never, ever changes.

Happy Christmas, everyone.

There’s no Tearmoon Empire anime yet, but it’s coming in 2023. The light novels are published by J-Novel Club. Rose of Versailles (which is not entirely historic, but it’s certainly a landmark of anime) can be streamed at Plex.

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