Written by: Andres Salazar
When you think of Christmas, what comes to mind? You might think of the presents under the Christmas tree. Perhaps it’s the cookies and milk that get left for Santa. If you’re really into unique Christmas traditions, you might even think of how many people watch Die Hard (1988) every year. The point is that there are all sorts of different activities, traditions, and goodies that call forth that classic holiday spirit. There’s a whole library of ways to celebrate December 25th, with different cultures and countries having their own celebratory styles.
Although Japan is no stranger to Christmas, the country has a fun twist to the classic holiday. Right alongside the Christmas presents, stories of Santa’s workshop, and decorated trees, you’ll be shocked to find another familiar face: KFC’s very own Colonel Sanders. It is definitely a shock to those seeing Japanese Christmas for the first time; most people don’t really see a connection between the day honouring Jesus Christ’s birth and a pretty okay bucket of fried chicken (Kazuki, 2021). Every year, most Japanese people gather to eat fried chicken, specifically from KFC. But why is that the staple Christmas food of Japan?
The mid-seventies saw the beginning of Japan’s fried chicken-eating tradition. As Christmas began to gain popularity in Japan, so did people’s interest in celebrating it the same way as other international communities. Among those celebratory traditions was eating turkey. Unfortunately for Japan, turkey is, to this day, not always an easily accessible food. Turkeys are simply not part of the typical Japanese diet. As a result, they are not easy to find, especially at easily justifiable prices. So, to satisfy those cravings of eating a bird over the holidays, Christmas-celebrating Japanese folk looked towards a more accessible and affordable option: chicken. The KFC company in Japan heard of people wanting to eat turkey for the holidays and jumped at the opportunity to cement its fried chicken as its staple Christmas food (J-Cast News, 2012).
Even now, every Christmas season sees a boom in Japanese fried chicken purchases. KFC and other fried chicken stores have specific holiday menus, promotions, and side options. It is so popular that KFC bucket orders for December 25th must be placed days and sometimes weeks in advance. At this point, eating a fresh bucket of KFC is just as “Christmas-like” as the tree that sits in the living room. While turkey has become a slightly more accessible ingredient throughout the years, Japanese people are still looking towards that well-known red and white paper bucket.
While the lack of turkeys kicked off KFC‘s prevalence on Christmas, it isn’t the only thing that pushed it to become such an important part of the holiday. One thing that is important to remember is that Japan is not a Christian country. With most of the population being either Buddhist or non-religious, December 25th is seen mainly as a family and couple-oriented day. Most workplaces are still actively open on the day, and with the busy Japanese work schedule, a quick bucket of KFC chicken suddenly seems like a fast, affordable, and fun way to celebrate Christmas evening. Simply put, a bucket of KFC on Christmas fits well with the everyday Japanese lifestyle. Many also see the holiday as a fun, American-style celebration, and there aren’t many things more American than cheap and oily fried chicken.
During my time in Japan, I always celebrated Christmas with the largest bucket of fried chicken for me and others to share. Although it’s shocking to hear about it for the first time, experiencing it firsthand is fascinating. There is something simply incredible about standing inside a KFC in Tokyo on Christmas, waiting for your pre-ordered fried chicken with a side of gravy and a small Christmas cake. Even back in Canada, I still find myself checking KFC’s holiday hours, hoping to see that they are open on the 25th for at least a small, one-person meal. There is a whole library of different ways to celebrate Christmas. Perhaps, just to spice things up this year, you might like to try celebrating Christmas with KFC’s Colonel Sanders.
J-Cast News. (2012, December 25). 「クリスマスはKFC」に海外から驚きの声 「ジョークか何かだろ」「本気なのか」. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://www.j-cast.com/2012/12/25159537.html?p=all .
Kazuki, Miho. (2021, December 23). 「どうして日本人はクリスマスにKFCを食べるの？」と聞かれたけど海外では、た…食べないの？. Retrieved November 18, 2022, from https://youpouch.com/2021/12/23/807290/ .