Christmas 2023: Why does Japan celebrate Christmas with a KFC bucket meal?

Christmas in Japan eschews the formal Christmas dinner and instead celebrates the holiday season with a KFC bucket meal. But why?
KFC has become the Christmas Dinner du jour for Japanese families celebrating the occasion (Credit: KFC Japan)KFC has become the Christmas Dinner du jour for Japanese families celebrating the occasion (Credit: KFC Japan)
KFC has become the Christmas Dinner du jour for Japanese families celebrating the occasion (Credit: KFC Japan)

While many of us are starting our Christmas Dinner shopping, with the constant handling of frozen turkeys to judge whether their weight is enough for the seasonal meal and the laundry list of leftovers it can provide in the days afterwards, in Japan the Christmas dinner shop is wholly different. In fact, it’s more of a takeaway order than a sojourn (or scramble) to the supermarket; as the great Christmas dinner in Japan each year is a KFC meal, as vlogger Chris Broad revealed in one of his videos on his “Abroad In Japan” YouTube channel.

But why, of all the Western fast food chains in Japan, is KFC considered the definitive Christmas meal? Why for that matter is KFC considered a Christmas meal, full stop? That lies in the novelty and exotic appeal American fast food had in Japan during the 1970s. 

KFC was a new player in the Japanese market at the time, and its association with Western culture made it intriguing and fashionable. The idea of enjoying a Western-style meal, especially on a special occasion like Christmas, appealed to the Japanese sense of modernity and cosmopolitanism. In addition, Japan lacked established Christmas traditions, leaving a void that KFC was able to fill skillfully. 

Unlike in Western countries where a traditional Christmas dinner often features turkey or ham, Japan did not have a typical cuisine for this holiday. KFC, through its marketing campaign, positioned its fried chicken cleverly as a festive option, offering an easy-to-prepare, accessible, and celebratory meal.

The timing of the campaign by KFC in Japan was perfect as Christmas was not a national holiday until 1989, and it was not celebrated based on religious customs. Instead, it was considered a romantic or familial occasion; KFC capitalized on this secular aspect of the holiday by promoting the idea of a Western-style family feast, which resulted in the celebration of Christmas with KFC becoming a popular tradition in Japan.

It is important not to overlook the convenience factor either; KFC's Christmas packages, with their pre-set menus, are appealing to busy families who want a hassle-free and delicious holiday meal. As a result, KFC has become an attractive option for those who want to partake in the festivities without the time-consuming preparation associated with traditional Christmas dinners.

KFC's success in becoming a part of Japanese Christmas celebrations has been a perfect example of how cultural practices can adapt and evolve, and how effective marketing can influence them. The brand was able to tap into cultural gaps, appeal to the Japanese fascination with Western modernity, and offer a convenient alternative to non-existent traditions. This way, KFC not only became a holiday tradition but also a fundamental part of Japanese Christmas culture

Related topics:

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.