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Buying a cake for Christmas is a Japanese tradition. But these cakes have a definite expiration date — no one wants to eat Christmas cake after December 25th. And no matter how attractive a woman is, it's said, no Japanese male will want to marry her after she's 25. Thus, "Christmas Cake" is used as a metaphor term for a woman rendered unmarriageable because she is past the freshness of her youth; roughly equivalent to "Old Maid." It's a common trope for a character to at least be surprised that another isn't married yet by this age. Even when the writers are sympathetic to the character, nagging to marry will still come from someone, usually her parents.
A Cool Big Sis may be one, or heading there, usually with extreme annoyance; referring to this character as Oba-san is about as tactful as referring to someone as Ma'am and is likely to induce a rage. Sometimes this is just a device to explain them hanging around other characters younger than them.
On the antagonistic side, a Punch Clock Villain is often a Christmas Cake. She tends to be very attractive but is relegated to cake status by annoying habits. The other problem occurs if she's also stuck in an Improbably Female Cast or any such place where men are slim pickings. The Competence Zone might force her to hang around and even fawn over men muchyoungerthan her.
Interestingly, the more unexpected the presence of the Christmas Cake is, the more likely her being one is emphasized as being an attractive point. If a character expresses this point in-story, he Likes Older Women.
This is on its way to being a Discredited Trope: the latest Japanese census data shows that more and more people are marrying older, with most people under 25 remaining unmarried. Many teens and young adults have never heard of the concept and many that have think it's old-fashioned. Having a character believing in the Christmas Cake concept may mark them as being likewise old-fashioned.
See also Grande Dame and Maiden Aunt for the much older Western variants. Also see My Biological Clock Is Ticking and I Want Grandkids. For people older than the average brand of Christmas Cake, see Grandma, What Massive Hotness You Have. Contrast with Likes Older Women. Not to be confused with Fruit Cake. Not to be confused with being a lie, either. Compare and contrast with Stacy's Mom, an older character who has an excess of younger suitors.
The Christmas Cake trope is related to Never a Self-Made Woman. As the Japanese-culture specific variant of Old Maid, only Japanese examples should be listed here. Also, a woman being single and 25 years or older is not enough to qualify for this trope, even if they are Japanese. In order to fall under this trope, the woman must make a specific reference to the concept of "needing to have been married by a certain age" - typically by either having a complex about being older and unmarried, or making it clear that they don't believe in the concept of being "too old to marry". If the trope itself is brought up but not in reference to any specific female characters, that counts as an example as well.
Another more modern, but no less blunt, term used in Japan is "urenokori", which is also a term for leftover unsold items in a store's inventory.
Sister Trope to Mrs. Robinson.
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Anime and Manga
Taeko Yasuko of Area 88, Ryoko's loyal secretary. She is very sensitive about her age and exploded when someone hit on her since she thought he was making fun of her.
Minamo "Nyamo" Kurosawa (Azumanga Daioh: nagged by mom and frequently teased by Yukari, despite the latter being a "cake" herself).
Linna Yamazaki in Bubblegum Crisis 2040 has to deal with her parents who not only nag, but set up meetings (omiai) for her with potential partners.
Emu Hino, the female lead from Crying Freeman. She was in her late 20's and a virgin by the time she met Yoh Hinomura and was set up for death. So, she asked the handsome and gentlemanly Yoh to take her virginity before killing her... which partially breaks Yoh's conditioning and makes him fall for her, thus he decides to make her his partner instead.
Mitsuka Yoshimine from DearS. Her age is never specified but she sure looks like she's at least 25, and despite the ridiculously Stripperiffic costumes she routinely wears (and/or strips out of) while teaching a high school class (presumably full of horny high school age boys), plus the fact that pretty much everything that comes out of her mouth is suggestive or overtly about sex... Nobody pays any attention to her. At all. Her love life is deader than a doornail.
Subverted in Detective Conan. Detective Miwako Satou was offered a matchup by her mother since she looked as if she Must Have Lots of Free Time, and hence, would become a Christmas cake. Which turned out to cause a Wedding Deadline-like moment for her boyfriend, Detective Takagi. Really not helped by how the guy Satou Sr. wanted for her daughter was Takagi's romantic rival, Detective Shiratori.
Subverted in an earlier case, too. The victim is Sayuri Matsumoto, a Christmas Cake that was Shinichi and Ran's middle school teacher, and even when she's getting married now, she's still past the "average age" of 25. The would-be killer was... the groom, hell-bent with revenge since her Overprotective Dad caused his mother's death many years ago. They do reconcile and get married for real... but only several years later.
While not directly stated, it's very strongly implied that the waitress Yayoi Himeno from episode 32 is one of these too. She's already 24 years old, looks and acts perpetually angry, and later we learn that the reason why she was brutally murdered (first strangled, then stabbed in the chest) was that she kept bugging her much-older boyfriend for marriage... but didn't know that said boyfriend was actually a married man, so he killed her to keep his wife from finding out.
In the "Distinguished Family's Consecutive Accidental Death Case", the eldest daughter Nobuko not only is unmarried while her younger sister Yasue is married and her brother Hieomi is engaged... she is already 39. It doesn't help that she treats her brother's girlfriend Miyuki (herself a little past the limit) like shit; her father reacts via openly citing the trope.
Nagato: I apologize for my daughter's behavior... I believe she's like this since she hasn't been able to get married.
Conan (inner thoughts): With a personality like that, she never will.
Mika-sensei from Doki Doki School Hours is 27 and still lives with her parents. She doesn't mind though, since she loves to be spoiled by her father and cares mostly for good food. Her mother is worried though and sets her up for a date for an Arranged Marriage, which doesn't turn out too well.
Miz Mishtal in El-Hazard: The Magnificent World is another example of this; her first appearance shows her negative reaction to a letter from one her old (and married) schoolmate.
Mayuko-sensei from Fruits Basket. In the ending she gets together with Hatori. This is even lampshaded at one point, when Shigure meets her while standing in as Tohru's guardian for a parent-teacher conference. As they snipe at each other, one thing he says is how she's pretty much all but past her marriageable years.
Yura Kawada from Futari Ecchi, before she meets her match in the equally cute and even-then-not-taken Makoto, whom she met via an arranged date that went really well. Her cousin-in-law/neighbor/counselor Kyouko also fits in, until she gets married as well.
Shura Kirigakure from the anime adaptation of Blue Exorcist is hinted to be this when Yukio starts to say what age she will turning this year. He gets an empty beer can thrown at his forehead for his troubles, but not before he says enough of the word to make it seem like he was going to say 26 or 27.
The anime seems to be the source for the tales of her discomfort with 'Auntie'; In the manga she seems to understand Keitaro means it as a sign of his affection for her; in any event she doesn't hunt him down for it.
In the manga she hardly seems to care at all. Although that might be due to the fact she does not appear that often.
Nanako Kuroi (Lucky Star), 27 and still single. After hearing her students discuss the christmas cake/unmarried woman metaphor earlier in the episode she actually buys a Christmas cake after the 25th and proclaims (as she walks into the sunset) "You are wanted".
Further joked about when Nanako meets Kona's cousin Yui and assumes because she is alone at a festival that she is also unmarried at an advanced age. Yui however is married, but with a husband seems to always be off at work and offscreen. Everyone but Nanako just finds it embarrassing.
Mari Iijima (voice actress for Minmay in Macross) mentions this trope by name in the DVD commentary for Macross episode 9, on the ADV release. "We are like Christmas Cakes"
Mahoromatic turns the idea into a gag, where a much older Suguru is shocked to find his old boy-chasing teacher looking exactly the same.
Touko Kuzunoha of Mahou Sensei Negima! is the calm and composed Shinmeiryuu mentor of Setsuna. At least, she's calm and composed most of the time. When the scheme of the Big Bad in the Mahora Festival Story Arc went off without a hitch, ruining her love life, and leaving her a future where she'll remain an unmarried 30-something, she snapped.
Kataragi: It could still work out...
Touko: I'll be in the magic world, and on top of that, an ermine! What the bleep kind of long-distance relationship is that!?
The way she treats her younger bodyguard and her comments about Gaara and Sasuke have some fans joking that she fits the "fawning over younger men" part of the trope as well.
The fact that she called Sasuke attractive before trying to melt him doesn't help at all. For some it might however, and you know who you are.
Misato Katsuragi of Neon Genesis Evangelion makes this one of the few tropes the show plays straight, feeling discouraged at having to go to a friend’s wedding while single. There are also subtle and very ambiguous hints that she might actually be into Shinji, but she’s also very attracted to Kaji and is devastated when he’s killed. All in all, she has issues when it comes to men.
Boa Hancock, who's 31, would also qualify, except women in Amazon Lily do not seem to take husbands. However, she is madly in love with Luffy, who's 19, but doesn't return her feelings in the least.
Haruka Shitow of RahXephon is 29 years old and has presumably remained unmarried due to still carrying a flame for her childhood sweetheart Ayato, whom she lost when she was 16.
Yomiko Readman of Read or Die is 25 years old and lives by herself in an apartment full of used books. She used to have a boyfriend/lover in Donnie Nakajima, but he died ...and it turns out that Yomiko was the one who sent him to his end in the manga. In the anime, it's implied Joker killed him off, though it's never explained what happened. Though, the manga clarifies that it's both: Joker arranged for Yomiko to be forced to kill Donnie. When Yomiko found out at the end of the manga, the events of the anime backstory happen.
Megumi Takani from Rurouni Kenshin. She's more exactly 23 years old, but Sanosuke pretty much calls her Christmas Cake to her face after Kenshin tells his friends about Enishi and Tomoe and she is very displeased. In the end, she decides to come back to her hometown to pursue her dream to be a doctor.
Marie Mjolnir from Soul Eater. In her introductory scene she's freaking out, because she wanted to have been married and retired by now, so she declares that she wants to marry the toilet. Later things look up for her. She is about to get back together with her old boyfriend, and then he's murdered on the way to their reunion date. By the end of the manga, she is pregnant and the father is heavily implied to be Stein.
Yuri-sensei from Toradora! (who is 29) to the point that she talks about it to herself constantly, and nearly acts like a zombie.
Sumire from Kimi Wa Petto is viewed by her coworkers with a mixture of awe and hostility for being a 28-year-old working single woman whose high education and intelligence scares away men. She does find a patient boyfriend in her first crush, Hatsumi, but in the end goes the Likes Older Women route and hooks up with Takeshi who is 8 years her junior.
Mai Kujaku/Valentine in Yu-Gi-Oh!: doesn't really seem to want to get married (one of her duels actually was against her "fiancée", the actor Jean-Paul), as her tastes may point to younger men, AKA Jonouchi/Joey (despite Word of God from Takahashi himself) or possibly Varon. This would explain what an adult woman is doing on an island playing children card games with children. (She's not the only adult, but most of the people are children.) Then again, card games are a Serious Business, and she does state that she just wants the outrageously large prize money.
Though there was no (explicit) prize money in the Battle City tournament... hmm....
She could have done it for the rare cards.
Mai is actually 24 years old, so she technically has not reached Christmas cake status yet. Not that it would matter to most fans anyway considering how good she looks.
Ayako is only 23 years old according to Wikipedia and a few other sites, so she's actually still a few years away from becoming a Christmas Cake.
Subverted in Fairy Tail. Ur gets advice from a friend that she should settle down and get a man since she's approaching that age. It turns out Ur already had a daughter, which she never mentioned because she believed her daughter was dead. While we don't know what happened between them, her daughter Urtear is alive and kicking as The Dragon (and hates her mother because she was tricked into believe that Ur abandoned her to her luck but she still planned to go back in time and fix that "detail" to not lose her).
Yuugen Kaisha: Ayaka realizes she isn't getting any younger and wonders if she'll ever find that 'special someone'. So she sometimes asks Madam Sumei to read her fortune, only to be told her chances are nil. Though it's subverted, since she knows Detective Karino is in love with her and she isn't above flirting with him. But she doesn't make it easy for him either.
Patlabor: Shinobu is in her mid-late 20's and a dedicated police captain of the Special Vehicles 1st section. As such, her mother worries about her chances of marriage, fearing she may be injured before she finds a husband. While Shinobu appreciates her mother's concern, she appears to be in no rush to get married. Though, given the way she and her fellow captain, Gotoh, relate to each other, you'd think she already was.
Taeko from Only Yesterday. She's 27 and unmarried, which gets brought up many times in the film to the point where Toshio's grandmother suggests she marry him. Since Toshio and Taeko quite like each other, it ultimately works.
In Rosario + Vampire, Mizore Shirayuki is a yuki-onna, and her race can only bear children from the mid teens to mid twenties. A literal Christmas Cake, she is forced into an Arranged Marriage so she can marry and have kids. She tries to escape by going to the one she is in love with, stripping, tackling him, straddling him and begging him to have sex with her. The next three chapters show very explicitly- Mizore's problem is not that she personally wants to have children. It's the fact that her particular version of 'arranged marriage' means 'legally bound, forever, to be the Sex Slave, or watch said slaver destroy your hometown and everyone in it.' Nothing justifies her attempted rape of Tsukune, but it's understandable that she got a little crazy. (We see Mizore's fiancée sexually violating her later in the manga, incidentally. It is the trauma of this that drives her to attempt suicide.
The adult manga Toshiue no Hito uses this for some drama when the 20-year-old protagonist (in university at the time) introduces his new girlfriend to his parents; they're scandalised that he's living with a 26-year-old widow. When they actually meet her, they're somewhat surprised to find she's really, reallyyoung-looking.
How young? She later models clothes for pre-teens.
In Otoyomegatari, it is mentioned that the newly-wed Amir is a bit old for marriage. She's twenty, and her husband is twelve. A bit of Truth in Television because Asian girls at the time did tend to be married off in their early teens.
The Second Guest in Gregory Horror Show is an unmarried woman who is, if Judgement Boy's observation is true, in her late twenties/early thirties. The fact that she chose her career over her boyfriend (resulting in him breaking up with her) and that she had to watch her best friend marry the guy actually turns out to be the root of all her mental problems.Poor woman...
A Running Gag in the early episodes of Puella Magi Madoka Magica is how Madoka's Meganekko homeroom teacher, Kazuko Saotome, complains endlessly about her Christmas Cake status. Even in class. Her age isn't fully disclosed, but she is a friend of Madoka's mom Junko... so she may be already in her thirties. To give you a good idea, one of her lectures is based around many ways the world could end, with her quipping that she'd rather have the world end than carry the label of Cake.
Tesla Magnets in Megaman NT Warrior is not only a Christmas Cake but obsesses over it. Just to give you an idea, she hijacks a robot named Thirty and goes on a rampage. And if she's ever especially angry, expect a backdrop covered in "30" to appear.
In her own mind, at least, she's eternally seventeen.
Bleach: Although she's never directly called "Christmas Cake" in the anime, Rangiku Matsumoto's age is a very sore point for her, with one filler episode going so far as to even create a male version for the sole purpose of having one kid press two berserk buttons by referring to Rangiku as "oba-san" and Yumichika as "o-san" in the same conversation. The anime later takes Rangiku's age references even further by making it such a big issue in the Zanpakutou Arc that it's actually the reason why Rangiku's zanpakutou, Haineko, is angry with her. Averted in the manga, where it's never an issue for either Rangiku or Yumichika, making it an anime-only trope.
Implied to be the case with Major General Armstrong in Fullmetal Alchemist. She uses it to her advantage when charming information out of an enemy.
Played for Laughs at implication in Carnival Phantasm in the Ilya's Castle Special: After defeating Rider, Ilya boasts that mature women had no value, then Caster retaliates by calling her a lolicon doll that doesn't understand the true value of mature women. Ilya retaliates again by defeating Caster... but not after claiming this:
"All Japanese men are lolicons!!"
Played with by Meme Touwa in Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko; she leaves a note for Makoto saying that the refrigerator contains a cake that's about to hit its expiration date. Naturally, she's hiding in the fridge.
Bekki Natsumi from No-Rin anguishes about this all the time. She claims to be 40 years old, but only looks to be in her mid-20's. She often makes it a point to mention her single status to her class a lot as well, which often sours their mood but also breaks up any arguments that may have been occurring too.
Invoked in The Karate Kid Part II. Yuki-san, Miyagi's old flame, willingly decided to remain an "old maid" as she considered that it was the better alternative to being a trophy wife to Sato, Miyagi's rival.
Late Spring (1949), by the renowned director Yasujirō Ozu, is all about this, but a bit subverted and downplayed. The 27-year-old heroine has remained unmarried to take care of her widowed father. All her male friends and colleagues are either married or engaged. However, she's quite happy in her life. It's her family members who worry, and eventually set her up with a nice man from her university. Her dad even pretends he's about to remarry so she won't worry about him.
In the Abram's Daughters series by Beverly Lewis, there is a tacit understanding that if the Ebersol sisters don’t marry by a certain age, they’ll likely be old maids for life. The series also contains a male version – in The Sacrifice 22-year-old Gid Peachey worries that if he doesn’t seal the deal with his longtime crush soon, he’ll be too old to court another girl: “Seemed to him every young man his age had already married and was expecting a baby come next summer.”
In Fear and Trembling, a semi-autobiographical novel by Amélie Nothomb in which she describes her disastrous experience as a foreign Office Lady in a Japanese corporation, her immediate superior is an unmarried 29-year-old woman. It's hinted that her parents are desperate to see her get married before she turns 30 (which she doesn't).
A western variant is deliberately invoked in The Parasol Protectorate series. Alexia Tarrabotti is considered a spinster in the alternate Victorian world the books and manga take place in, though she would still be considered rather young by modern standards.
A saying from The Troop (Set in a Prince Edward Island fishing village, by the way)
Island women are like Christmas Trees. Nobody wants them after the 25th."
Until the 90s, All Japan Womens Pro Wrestling had a policy that their wrestlers had to retire at age 25. (Until the establishment of JWP in 1986, they were the only women's pro wrestling promotion in Japan. After that, wrestlers had the option of jumping to other promotions instead.)
The reality series Total Divas shows that several women do worry about this, especially in the wrestling business. Trinity (Naomi) starts worrying that she only has a few more years left before she can start a family and have children. She also finds trouble committing to her engagement because of the stress of her work. Nikki Bella also keeps mentioning how close to 30 she is and worries if John Cena will ever want to be married to her.
Contestants of the Miss America and Miss Universe pageant cannot be older than 24 when participating in the event. Women who are 25, or even too close to the age, have been disqualified on the grounds of being tooold.
Muffy from the Harvest Moon series; she's always lamenting her failure with men, and in the Japanese version of Harvest Moon DS, her parents even try to arrange a marriage for her! (In the American version, they just try setting her up on a blind date.) She's also one of the available marriage candidates in Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life and Harvest Moon DS — in DS, she'll also eventually end up marrying Griffin if the player doesn't marry her, though in A Wonderful Life, she and Griffin will merely remain in a state of perpetual UST.
Ms. Kashiwagi from Persona 4, who is immediately fingered as one of these in her introduction and later is so delusional about her looks that she competes in a high school beauty contest and genuinely acts surprised at her loss. One could say she is an Expy of Mitsuka Yoshimine.
In the earlier Persona 2, this was deconstructed with Ulala. She not only has no man, she has no job or skills leading her to attempt to kill her best friend Maya, who is much more successful.
The basis behind a joke in Super Robot Wars Original Generation 2, where Aguija is called an "Old Hag" by the teenaged Lune Zoldark. She takes particular offense to this, saying that she's still in her 20's. Hard-Drinking Party Girl Excellen (23) then gets into it, pointing out that all the females in their team are still younger than her, drawing a few uncomfortable laughs from Katina and Rhada, who at ages 25 and 27, are only just.
In MX, Aqua Centrum has this stigma as she is among the oldest pilots in the game, older than her copilot Hugo by a few years and significantly older than the various pilots from series such as Gundam and Dragonar.
Raine Sage of Tales of Symphonia isn't quite to this point yet, but she does make more than one reference to worrying about her age. All the more ridiculous because, as an elf or, rather, half-elf she'll live for about a thousand years. She can, indeed, pursue romantic involvement with the much younger main character.
Reina Mayuzumi of Trauma Center Under The Knife 2, also The Vamp, is 35, single, and constantly tries to sex up Derek, after which Angie furiously complains that she has to be much older than she looks. Her ultimate fate is related to this trope.
In Mitsumete Knight, becoming one is Sue's greatest fear, as she's already 22 by the beginning of the game. She wants to have a husband and have a lovey-dovey relationship with him, but can't find one because she drives away her suitors with her Well, Excuse Me, Princess! and Mood-Swinger attitudes.
SoulCalibur V seems to be aware of the phenomenon and is taking all their older females (since the game is set 17 years after the previous game) and replacing them with younger successors. Exceptions are Ivy (Who was 32 in the original games but has stopped aging, making her 49 chronologically), Tira (Who was 17, her height is listen as unknown which could mean she has stopped aging but is chronologically 34) and Hilde, who was 18 in IV and is now 35. None of these three women quite qualify for Christmas Cake, either.
Ivy is probably the one that comes closest - but she's celibate by choice because of her concern about bringing a Soul Edge-tainted child into the world. Being that she herself is one, she would know. On the other hand, the infamously Stripperific and dominatrix-like outfits she wears seem to imply that she's rather...frustrated about it.
Tira doesn't qualify as Christmas Cake - although (at least in V) she does fit the bill for Older Than They Look if you're into that type of thing. But her closest thing to a love interest is Nightmare - or really less Nightmare and more the sword itself.
Hilde averts it entirely. By V, she's given birth to two children, whose ages aren't explicitly mentioned. Also unmentioned (but obviously assumed to exist or have existed at some point) is the father of her children.
It's Siegfried, the other leader of the Band of the Hawk, meaning Hilde averts this trope.
The above incident is a repeat of what happened between Tekken 2 and 3, which saw a timeskip of a similar length and the removal of Jun Kazama and Michelle Chang. Michelle was immediately replaced with an adopted daughter Julia, while it took until Tekken 5 to replace Jun with her niece, Asuka.
In Luminous Arc, the Garden Children talk about Vanessa in this manner, shortly before she starts a Bar Brawl with them...
Parasoul, from Skullgirls, is revealed to be 25 in her character bio. The games don't make much of a mention of this, however.
Parodied in The King of Fighters XIII, as Mai gets pissed when she pretty much tricks herself into believing that Athena is calling her an "old maid" in their pre-fight chat. Poor Athena has no idea of what's going on.
There are several ladies who are either close or past the "limit"... but surprisingly the major part of them aren't that super concerned with marriage. As much, Vanessa has a pre-fight intro with younger girls (and mind you, Vanessa is a Determined Widow and Action Mom in her early 30's) and the Women Fighters's talk with the Psycho Soldiers Team in XIII has them getting childishly petty with each other over their love lives.
Liliana spends most of Princess Waltz pretending to be a middleschooler, yet rather pointedly asks Arata if he likes 'older women'. His mother on the other hand outright accuses her of being a cradle-snatcher.
Lotus from Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors. She's graphically depicted as Ms. Fanservice, in a skimpy outfit with large, shiny assets. But the game's characters complain repeatedly about being forced to look at her "wrinkly grandma boobs". She's actually 40 years old and a divorcee with twin daughters.
Although to be fair, it isn't the entire cast that does this. June thinks she's attractive and Junpei only makes fun of her calling her a demoness. Seven is the only one calling her an old hag, despite the fact that he's five years older than her.
A male version is given a minor examplie in Higurashi no Naku Koro ni as a VERY brief Joke. Tomitake quips "A man becomes is more attractive at 30!", in response to Mion quipping "You like photography so much, you missed your chance to be married!"
Chizuru in Grisaia No Rakuen ruefully admits in the afterstory that she really does need to get married soon if it's every going to happen at all, but unfortunately the only person she's shown any interest in and can meet with often is ten years younger than her, her student and her family wouldn't approve of him. However, she does have a bonus sex scene that would fit into the canon ending where Yuuji basically has a harem that has her quit worrying about appearances and just go for it.