Almost everywhere around the globe, people don’t think of Kentucky Fried Chicken as the kind of restaurant that would be appropriate for a traditional Christmas dinner. But there is one caveat. Getting a Kentucky Fried Chicken meal is a Japanese holiday custom.

How, therefore, did the birth of Jesus Christ—the reason for the season—become associated with a bucket of fried chicken in the country of the rising sun? To start with, Christmas has only lately become a popular holiday in Japan; historically, it was not celebrated at all. As a result of its Western origins and the fact that Shinto and Buddhism were the two main religions practiced by the majority of Japanese people, Christmas has little religious relevance for many Japanese people even now.

Japan outlawed Christianity in the 1600s and kept it that way until the middle of the 1800s. A little sect of Japanese Christians called “Kakure Kirishitan” (literally “hidden Christians”), carried on the missionary work of Saint Francis Xavier, who had arrived in Japan in 1549.

Between 1868 and 1912, the religion and Christmas both made a comeback. Even though Christmas is not a national holiday in Japan, many Japanese quickly adopted Western Christmas customs such as exchanging gifts, decorating trees, putting up lights, etc.

What Role Did KFC Play?

This peculiar Christmas ritual originated in the 1970s when a client at the Aoyama KFC store noticed that fried chicken was the perfect alternative to the traditional turkey for a celebration supper. That was the beginning of the strange tradition, according to KFC.

In 1974, this concept made its way up to KFC’s corporate offices, where it sparked a massive advertising campaign in Japan called “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!). The campaign and the era’s enormous popularity in American culture contributed to the campaign’s ludicrous success.

Since then, KFC has capitalized on this national Christmas custom to great effect, going so far as to dress Colonel Sanders, its creator, and a household name, as Santa Claus and placing sculptures of him outside each restaurant in Santa suits. Santa Claus!

Bonus Facts

  • In the cultural melting pot of holiday traditions, Japan stands out for its unique embrace of Kentucky Fried Chicken during Christmas. This unexpected tradition finds its roots in a remarkable fusion of cultures, where Colonel Sanders, the face of the global fast-food chain, transforms into an emblematic figure during Japan’s festive season.
  • Beyond the realms of fast-food chains, Colonel Sanders becomes synonymous with the spirit of Christmas in Japan. His image adorns decorations, merchandise, and marketing campaigns, symbolizing holiday cheer and celebration. It’s a transformation that’s as surprising as it is intriguing.
  • At the heart of this tradition lies the exclusive Christmas menus offered by KFC outlets across Japan. These menus transcend the regular offerings, boasting unique dishes and meticulously crafted meal sets tailored explicitly for the holiday season. The allure of these special treats captivates the taste buds of Japanese consumers, drawing them into the joyous ambiance of the season.
  • The success of this tradition isn’t merely a culinary feat; it’s a testament to KFC Japan’s innovative marketing strategies. Their seasonal campaigns, adorned with captivating advertisements and limited-edition collectibles, cleverly ignite excitement and anticipation among the Japanese populace. These campaigns have become an integral part of the Japanese Christmas experience, adding a touch of magic to the holiday season.
  • The association between KFC and Christmas in Japan extends far deeper. It fosters a sense of community and togetherness. Families and friends gather around a shared meal, creating moments of joy and celebration that transcend the culinary aspect, encapsulating the true spirit of Christmas.

Cultural Appropriation or Appreciation?

In the festive swirl of holiday traditions, the debate rages on: is Japan’s adoption of Kentucky Fried Chicken as a Christmas staple a respectful nod to global cultures or an appropriation overshadowing local traditions? Some argue that embracing a Western fast-food icon during a sacred Japanese holiday might dilute centuries-old customs. Yet, others view it as a flavorful exchange, blending culinary diversity into festive merrymaking without erasing local flavors.

Commercialization of Christmas

The sizzling controversy simmers around the role of KFC in Christmas commercialization. Critics roast KFC’s festive marketing campaigns, claiming they roast the true meaning of Christmas, replacing it with materialism and consumer frenzy. Yet, defenders see it as a finger-licking good addition, stirring up unique experiences for families and seasoning the holiday with communal cheer.

Environmental Impact of KFC’s Christmas Tradition

As the aroma of fried chicken fills the holiday air, concerns sizzle over the environmental footprint. Critics shake their drumsticks at the mountains of single-use packaging and increased waste. However, KFC’s efforts to introduce eco-friendly packaging and reduce their environmental cluck-footprint offer a glimmer of hope to those frying up sustainability concerns.

Globalization of Food Culture

In this culinary cauldron, the debate churns over the globalization of food culture. Critics fear the melting pot effect, boiling local food traditions away. Yet, the aroma of diversity wafts in, with enthusiasts relishing the global buffet that offers a taste of cultures far and wide.

Accessibility and Inclusivity

At the festive feast, concerns simmer over socioeconomic divides. Critics argue that KFC’s holiday exclusivity might leave some families out in the cold, unable to partake. But amidst the debate, the aroma of togetherness fills the air, highlighting the sense of community fostered by this tradition, regardless of one’s bucket-size budget.

What You Should Know About Japanese Traditions

  • According to recent statistics, Japanese households typically allocate a substantial portion of their budget to Christmas festivities. On average, families spend around ¥50,000 to ¥100,000 (approximately $450 to $900 USD) on gifts, decorations, food, and entertainment during the holiday season, reflecting a significant investment in celebrating Christmas.
  • In Japan, Christmas Eve holds more significance than Christmas Day itself. An interesting trend emerges, revealing that approximately 3.6 million couples reserve tables at restaurants for romantic dinners on Christmas Eve. This tradition has become a popular way for couples to celebrate and share intimate moments during the festive season.
  • A notable statistic revolves around the consumption of Christmas cakes in Japan. Nearly 1.7 million Christmas cakes, typically sponge cakes adorned with cream and strawberries, are sold during the holiday season. This dessert has become a symbol of Christmas in Japan, enjoyed by families and friends alike during their celebrations.
  • The festive spirit in Japan also illuminates its streets and neighborhoods during Christmas. Around 4 million LED lights decorate Tokyo’s popular districts, creating stunning light displays and attracting locals and tourists alike. These illuminations contribute to the enchanting ambiance of Christmas in Japan.
  • During the Christmas season, travel trends in Japan show a surge in domestic tourism. Statistics indicate that approximately 1.5 million people embark on trips within Japan during the holiday period. Many individuals and families take advantage of this time to explore different regions, enjoying the festive atmosphere and seasonal attractions across the country.

Not only do Japanese people wait in long lines outside of every KFC location during Christmastime, but they also reserve buckets of chicken in advance to ensure they don’t miss out on the tradition.