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There’s a pretty decent chance that if you’re Japanese, you’re about to head off to pick up your (possibly reserved) Christmas Chicken from KFC… you know, because that’s how the rest of the world celebrates Christmas. Who knew The Colonel’s secret recipe was so… tricky!

In Japan, You Eat Chicken On Christmas

Ask almost any Japanese person (and I have asked many) why they eat KFC on Christmas. Almost every one of them will answer “isn’t that what you do?” (or, at the very least, they’ll ask “you don’t eat chicken, too?”). Apparently, over the years the colonel has been tricking Japanese people into thinking that the rest of the world does Christmas with KFC, so obviously the cool thing to do is follow suit.

Of course (unless I’m missing something here) a KFC Christmas almost anywhere else would be quite a sad affair. Even eating chicken on Christmas seems a bit weird to me, though I’m sure there are some who roast a chicken instead of a goose, or turkey, or ham, or whatever it is people normally make.

How Did This Happen?

Well, first of all, the meaning of Christmas is pretty lost in Japan. It’s almost entirely a commercial holiday (did I say almost? I meant completely). We have made up 100% commercial holidays too, though I gotta say, Japan knocks us out of the water in this category. Christmas in Japan essentially feels like a “how much can you spend on your girlfriend today?” kind of holiday. There’s a lot of pressure to buy expensive gifts (even rankings on TV showing what gifts are the best, with a very heavy focus on price), spend money on hotels, and really just spend a lot of money in between, too.

With all this focus on the commercial, it was probably super easy for KFC to slip in and take the show. All it took, I’m sure, was a few years of advertising campaigns around Christmas. I mean, c’mon, who can possibly resist Japanese commercials? I know I can’t.

[yframe url='http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJAyVZ8HiwE']

Oh, and did I mention that Colonel Sanders kind of looks like Santa? He totally does.

Other Weird Japanese Christmas “Traditions”

KFC isn’t the only thing that makes Christmas in Japan unique. There are plenty of other things that could be considered “weird,” and we wrote about a good number of them a couple of years ago right here on Tofugu. But, just to make things simple, here’s a list of weird things, along with a few new ones.

  • Along with their chicken, a lot of people eat “Christmas Cake,” also because “Americans do it.” Maybe it’s just me, but I’m pretty sure people don’t eat Christmas Cake (though I guess it makes sense, after all, we are supposedly celebrating a birthday, right?).
  • A lot of Japanese people get it right (and know that Christmas is to celebrate Jesus’ birthday)… but there are a good number of people who think it’s to celebrate Santa’s birthday too. I’d give it a 60% Jesus, 20% don’t know, and 20% Santa’s birthday ratio, from the asking I’ve done.
  • Christmas Eve is lovey-lovey date night. It’s kind of like Valentines in a way. Guys are supposed to spend uber amounts of money on girls, and possibly rent a hotel, because that’s what guys do. Expect to see lots of TV focusing on expensive things to buy and expensive hotel rooms to rent around this time.
  • Christmas Eve is a night of miracles. Thank TV for this. Usually these miracles are romance related, though.
  • Although this has changed much, and the “age at which women should get married” has also become less “strict,” unmarried girls who are older than 25 (because the 25th is Christmas) are called “Christmas Cakes,” because in order to sell a Christmas Cake after Christmas, they have to be put at big discounts (i.e., you’re supposed to get married before hitting 25). Like I said, this is and has changed quite a bit.

Merry Christmas From Tofugu, Too!

Oh, and Merry Christmas to everyone out there, too! Hope you have a great holiday, no matter what you celebrate (or don’t celebrate). Festivus for the Restivus?

Merry Christmas! Go do something nice for someone.

  • Stephanrobertmarin

    Sneaky Colonel!! Well, I didn’t picture in a million years Christmas to be KFC themed in Japan. Commercial thing yes, but that is pushing it, yeah??

    Anyway, Merry Christmas to everyone at Tofugu!!

  • http://twitter.com/ocapehorn Ollie Capehorn

    I find this tradition hilarious :D I know people who have reserved their boxes weeks in advance just to make sure that they have them in time for the big day… astonishing…

    I mentioned this here (about Christmas in Japan generally) briefly if anyone’s interested…

    http://nihongoup.com/drops/christmas-japan/

  • Stephan

    From Stephan…

  • Anonymous

    メリークリスマス!!!!!!!

    Now lets eat this chicken shall we :P

  • Tamas

    Is there a japanese version of “merry Christmas” ?

  • Jeremy Neiman

    Happy Birthday Colonel Sanders!

  • http://omipan.tumblr.com/ gavinovz

    I eat a birthday cake for Jesus on Christmas Day after the Christmas dinner. Maybe that’s where they’re getting the Christmas cake from.

    Merry Christmas, y’all.

  • Qwerty121324

    Wow.. Kenta-san is very celebrated in Japan.

  • Somukeru

    Don’t know about the US, but Christmas Cake is a pretty traditional thing in the UK. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_cake. My mother’s christmas cake is excellent!

  • http://www.cassandraland.com Cassandra

    Merry Christmas! :)

  • http://culturequirk.blogspot.com/ Delphine

    Didn’t know a couple of those points, very interesting! About the cake, even though it may not be an American thing I can maybe understand if they see it as a Western thing? Not sure about all of Europe, but in Belgium at least we always have a Buche de Noel, which is essentially a cake in the shape of a yule log. Who knows?

    Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to Tofugu and everyone else!

  • Barbpj

    I was told the KFC thing started because they don’t really have turkeys in the market in Japan, so some marketing guy, (who probably worked for KFC) decided chicken is close enough! And I’m guessing because the Colonel does look like Santa, (you nailed that one!) KFC got the gig. Hilarious!

    One year we had Christmas Eve dinner from Burger King cause it was just us and we had to travel pretty far the next day to relatives. It actually was pretty cool and laied back. A very relaxing Christmas Eve. No KFC yet.

  • Ana Alcantara

    Dude, I made a cute little music video about Christmas customs! Check it out when you have time: http://ana.savagemuse.net/

  • http://aprylnwonderland.blogspot.com/ Apryl Peredo

    This year, McDonald’s has decided to get in on the action. They have an iCON box: it has chicken nuggets, shaka shaka chickens, a couple of chicken wings, extra large fries, as well as THREE McD themed telephone charms! (One is a snow-capped tiny McD restuarant!)

  • clc88

    to be fair the colonel does look alot like Santa Claus or Santakukoru (whatever santa is called in japan)
    – they both have glasses
    – they both have white hair
    – both have a beard and mustache
    – both are overweight
    – both fancy red
    – both have workers

    (spoiler alert (look away now!)
    – both are make believe

    merry christmas everyone!!

  • Anonymous

    Christmas in Japan is certainly an…interesting affair.

  • Bbreturnoftheguy

    Well, my Japanese wife and I are in Japan right now, and not only have we not seen any KFCs, we haven’t seen any adheres for them either. Family Mart is really pushing thier chicken, but no KFC. been here about a week with time spent in Tokyo, Gifu, Kyoto, and Osaka so far.

  • http://www.project-kathryn.com kathryn

    We eat Christmas cake in Australia (but fruit cake not the creamy kind like Japan) so I guess it’s not a case of the Japanese being weird for eating cake but the US being weird for not having it.

    It’s funny how many posts there are on the net saying the Japanese do things differently from “the rest of the world” when people actually mean the rest of the world is the US.

  • Anonymous

    Minna-san, Merry Christmas! :D

    Well, at least it’s not like nobody knows what Christmas is really about over there; that makes me a little happy.

    But yeah, interesting article. Whenever I tell people that the traditional Japanese Christmas dinner is KFC and Christmas Cake, they’re always surprised and amused XD Also, I personally think that the nickname “Christmas Cake” is mean; but at least things are starting to change.

  • Anonymous

    I had cake today, and I’m American :D (It was a chocolate-mint cake) I guess it’s just the majority of Americans who don’t have cake? I mean, there are cakes decorated for Christmas in the grocery stores, but I don’t think it’s a heavily-promoted part of the traditional American Christmas dinner.

    Actually, if someone could tell me what the “traditional” American Christmas dinner is supposed to be, I’d appreciate it, thanks.

  • Guest

    You do know the Colonel was a real person, right?

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  • http://facebook.com/paige.jouglard Pjougla

    So just learned of your existence today and I have to say that I’m already a (I guess you could say fan) of yours. My dream is to teach English in Japan. I’m in love with their culture and I love language (any kind). But I guess I just wanted to say Happy Holidays and I’ll definitely keep up with your blog.

  • http://facebook.com/paige.jouglard Paige

    And btw I like to reference to Seinfeld. =D

  • Alessa

    I was so glad to be back in Germany and celebrate Christmas with my family this year, because last year I “celebrated” it in Japan … nothing I want to do again.

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  • Foozlesprite

    That’s pretty hilarious considering KFCs probably aren’t even open on Christmas here. It’s the one day of the year where you can expect everything to be closed.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Samantha-Mercado-Saballos/665700105 Samantha Mercado-Saballos

    Merry Christmas to you too! and lol, KFC.

  • Anonymous

    Wow! How funny that KFC is part of a tradition in Japan! My family does have a cake at Christmas dinner – my grandmother always called it Jesus’ birthday cake, and it’s, appropriately, angel food cake. I haven’t heard of it being a wide-spread tradition, though. It’s probably something that was “borrowed” from elsewhere from immigrants who brought their holiday traditions with them when they came here.

  • Jonadab the Unsightly One

    > I guess it’s just the majority of Americans who don’t have cake?

    Actually, I’m pretty sure most Americans do have cake with Christmas dinner.

    We don’t call it “Christmas cake”, though, and we don’t associate it specifically with the holiday. It’s just the same thing we’d have with any other big homemade family dinner. What’s a big family dinner without cake? We also have mashed potatoes pretty much every single Christmas, for the same reason, but we don’t associate mashed potatoes with Christmas specifically — they’re just a standard component of the big traditional home-cooked family meal.

    We *don’t* have KFC for Christmas, obviously, because restaurant food is *not* a standard component of the big traditional family dinner. In fact, most restaurants (and virtually all fast food and chain restaurants) in the US are closed on Christmas and also on Thanksgiving, for the same reason: eating restaurant food on such a major holiday would be tantamount to admitting that you have no family you can visit and none of your so-called friends like you enough to include you in their holiday gathering. It would be the ultimate display of poignant misery and abject social destitution, and nobody wants to look quite that pathetic out in public. The people who really are stuck with nobody they can go see either mourn their plight quietly at home or spend the day in the emergency room recovering from a failed suicide attempt.

    Restaurants *are* open on Christmas Eve, because some people are on the road trying to get to the relatives’ place several states away in time for Christmas, and they have to stop and eat somewhere along the way.

  • Ninja

    Does the ‘australia.edu’ address still work for Mixi?

  • http://www.tofugu.com koichi

    read the updates on the mixi post… answer is… sometimes, though they
    probably have blocked it. strange place to put this comment, no…?

  • http://www.facebook.com/marcdragon Marc Dragon

    It’s pretty common to have Christmas cake in the UK after Christmas dinner, particularly in the more traditional households. It’s like a fruit cake basically. We have it along with mince pies and christmas pudding :)

  • Ginner

    You are right. The Japanese are crazeh!

  • Lee

    We definitely eat Christmas cake here… My mum has to make LOADS of them, one for me, one for home, one for dad’s work and another one just in case xD

  • Anna_m_clover

    It is traditional here in England to have a Christmas Cake. It is generally a heavy fruit cake with marzipan and royal icing, decorated with holly etc. It’s pretty gross.

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  • http://twitter.com/ichigoichielove Lisa W

    Yeah, I’m pretty familiar with the KFC Christmas, though I’ve avoided it on principle. Was going to have Chicken Nanban on Xmas Eve last year in protest (and because I really like chicken nanban….) but I was too sick to eat, so that ruined it. :(
    I like that the supermarkets have picked up on the chicken thing though – they had HEAPS of fried chicken packets on sale just before Xmas. ^^

    As for the Xmas Cake ‘syndrome’ for women – I heard somewhere they’ve changed it to ‘Soba Noodle’ – Since you eat it around New Years, the “new” too old is 31 (for the 31st of Dec). :P

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  • Dianon

    I did not do anything for Christmas.
    New Year feast to eat, raised.
    Since the main Japanese New Year
    New Year food is eaten the rest of today. I eat too much> 3 <;
    Oh, mixi too Best regards

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  • Digwoofles

    Fruitcakes dear…

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  • Guest

    Great article, but I’m Japanese, and my family (nor any of our friends) have ever had KFC for Christmas. I’m sure some Japanese families do, but it’s definitely not a “tradition” like your article implies. ;)

  • Guest

    I meant, my family has NEVER had KFC for Christmas. Typo sorry!

  • Kurone Shizuhi

    I’ve been in the exact situation where my Japanese friend asked me, “isn’t that what you do for christmas?”.

  • Jirugi

    “Apparently, over the years the colonel has been tricking Japanese
    people into thinking that the rest of the world does Christmas with KFC”
    lololol

    Anywho, is there a such thing as a traditional Christmas meal? I think this really varies depending on the household (in America).
    KFC on Christmas doesn’t sound too bad :)

  • Nay Wangtal

    Wouldn’t a real traditional Christmas meal be something like…bread? Maybe mash potato, or assorted starch, or even no food at all?
    Personally, I do wine and cheese.

  • Mahayla

    there was no video

  • Kelsey Reed

    Why do they eat KFC??

  • DZB1977

    We get the same questions in Korea. My girlfriend was asked today by her boss if she had hamburgers and pizza for christmas dinner.

    I think I might go get a bucket of chicken for dinner tonight.

  • Iz

    Santa Claus or rather St. Nicholas was apparently a real person too :)