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Why Japan Celebrates Christmas with KFC

13 December 2018

It might come as a bit of a surprise, but Christmas is indeed celebrated in Japan! It doesn’t have much to do with Santa or Christmas pine trees, and even less to do with wise men and Jesus Christ.

Japan has a lot of unique traditions when it comes to Christmas. One is the trend of eating a decorated Christmas cake on Christmas Eve. There is no clue to where this tradition came from, but for most people in Japan, Christmas without a cake would be like Christmas dinner in Britain without a Turkey.

An unusual tradition in Japan, however, is going out as a family to eat a bucket of KFC on Christmas Day and during the festive season.

In 1974, a (clearly very astute) marketing executive for the Japanese arm of Kentucky Fried Chicken created an advertising campaign with the slogan: ‘Kentucky for Christmas’, or ‘Kurusumasu ni was Kentakkii’. In Japan, turkeys are rare, and chicken is the most common substitute, and Christmas was never an established holiday in the country to begin with, so why not swap out one cooked bird for the other? Within a few years, KFC became inextricably tied up with the holiday, and now people order buckets of KFC chicken weeks in advance or line up outside the fast food restaurant for hours to get their seasonal meal.

This is not the first time KFC tried to implant itself in the holiday: ‘Christmas Eve with Colonel Sanders’ was an LP produced in the 1960s full of Christmassy songs to try and associate the holiday with the brand. But while, in most countries, brands were either treated with apathy, in Japan, ‘KFC in Christmas’ stuck. Every year, KFC still runs an incredibly popular Christmas themed advert to keep the tradition going.

Nowadays, an estimated 3.6 million Japanese families will come together and eat KFC during the winter season. While other Japanese snacks and fast foods are also popular and many families also eat out for a fancy meal in the Christmas holiday, all of these traditions are dwarfed by the millions who enjoy a KFC Christmas.

If you go to Japan over December, you can order yourself a Christmas ‘party barrel’, inspired by a Christmas dinner, but with fried chicken instead of turkey. These buckets come with a special premium container and seal. You can order a variety of seasonal premium specialities, including roast chicken and fried chicken in red wine sauce!

Most packages also contain Christmas cake, salad, and can even come with Christmas wine sold exclusively by the fast food chain. The price of a piece of chicken might start as low as ¥250 for a convenience store fried chicken substitute, though you can expect to pay up to ¥5600, the equivalent of almost £40, for premium roast turkey or roast chicken from the Colonel.

Japan still celebrates the other aspects of Christmas – decorations, gifts, and cheap holiday discounts are commonplace across December. However, KFC built a secular and commercial tradition in the country with the simple message: "You eat chicken at Christmas."

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