Food During Japanese Christmas

All this month (and probably a little into next month), we’re going to be taking a closer look at the Christmas season in Japan as well as New Year’s, which is way more important than Christmas in Japan. Although we’ve covered this time of year on the site in the past, focusing on the holiday season in more detail via this blog will give us a greater opportunity to share what it’s like to experience the end-of-the-year holidays in Japan.

We’re going to start this week by talking about the stereotypical Christmas (Eve) meal in Japan–which is actually more foreign than Japanese. Christmas Eve is more widely celebrated than Christmas Day, and as we’ve mentioned before, it’s typically viewed as a lovers’ holiday, although children may get a few Christmas presents as well. Christians make up only about 1% of the Japanese population, so there is no national holiday giving people time off from work or school on Christmas Day. Nevertheless, couples and friends look forward to celebrating Christmas Eve together.

The typical Japanese Christmas Eve dinner is a bucket of fried chicken, particularly from the most famous of fried chicken chains, KFC. (McDonald’s is launching a competitive ad campaign this year to get people to order fried chicken from them instead!) People actually make reservations for their large fried chicken orders weeks or even months ahead of time. KFC’s marketing department is likely responsible for this Japanese tradition. In 1974, they began the marketing campaign, “Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (“Kentucky for Christmas!”). Since eating turkey isn’t popular in Japan, KFC thought they would step in and offer their own poultry for the holiday. The marketing campaign was very successful and these days you’ll find long lines of people waiting to pick up their Christmas chicken that stretches several blocks long!

Another popular food item during Christmas in Japan is the Christmas Cake. The most popular variety is a sponge cake in multiple layers separated by strawberries and whipped cream. The cake is also frosted with whipped cream and covered with strawberries and other fruits. Bakeries and convenience stores will sell these cakes in convenient ready-to-go boxes right in front of the stores in the weeks leading up to Christmas.

(A strange aside: It was once popular to refer to unmarried Japanese women 25 or older as “Christmas cakes” in Japan. The joke was that they were past their fresh-by date and were unattractive on the marriage scene. It’s pretty offensive to call a woman a Christmas cake!)

Photo credit goes here.

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Tags: Food, holidays, japan, japanese culture