After all that build-up, it's time for the school Christmas party at last, and there was only one question on my mind as I sat down to watch this episode - Is Minori going to show up?
Before all that however, we get to see both Taiga and Ryuuji dressed up to the nines, and even more surprisingly Taiga and Ami have joined forces to perform a little Christmas number to the party goers. Meanwhile, Ryuuji is having about as much fun as he possibly can, courtesy of finding his role in the grand scheme of things by serving punch.
It's Ryuuji's dedication to proper punch-serving protocol that leads to him not even realising that Taiga has already left the party, as she goes to persuade Minori to go to the party before heading off home - This is all pointed out to him by Ami, whose patience seem to be wearing rather thin as Ryuuji continues to be blind to the bigger picture regarding those around him.
This outburst does at least wake him up enough to realise why Taiga's headed off home after seeing Minori, which leads to our kind-hearted protagonist performing an adorable turn as "Santa" for Taiga, while her excited reaction is equally adorable. She realises it's Ryuuji from the start, but that doesn't stop her loving every second of it... Perhaps a little too much you could argue - After pushing him out the door to return to the party and a waiting Minori, it finally dawns on her that she doesn't want to see him walk away with anyone else, making for yet another genuinely touching moment, an outburst of emotion matched in its sadness only by Minori's far more subtle response to Ryuuji....
By now, you're probably sick of me harping on about the brilliance of Toradora!, but brilliant is exactly what this series continues to be. While many shows of this ilk would take their emotional moments and throw them into your face with all the subtlety of a pink jumbo jet, Toradora! manages to be relatively muted even when the emotions on show are obvious - It doesn't feel the need to explain everything and put it on a plate for you despite the complexity of the relationships involved (and indeed this complexity which brings a feeling of reality to the inter-dependencies here is another big reason why this show is so good at what it does), preferring to leave you to go with the flow and feel what the characters are feeling for yourself. It's this which makes the series in turn so heart-warming and so emotionally raw, with most episodes leaving you watching the closing credits feeling something - Happiness, sadness, or something inbetween. You can't say that about many series these days.