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How the Colonel Stole Christmas in Japan

Updated: Jan 2

Japanese KFC

In the land of the rising sun, where ancient traditions blend seamlessly with modern festivities, one peculiar Christmas tradition has captured the hearts (and taste buds) of the Japanese people – the finger-lickin' good connection between KFC and Christmas. Forget chestnuts roasting on an open fire; in Japan, it's all about Colonel Sanders and his crispy, golden fried chicken.

Our journey down the savory road of KFC and Japanese Christmas began in the early '70s when an enterprising marketing campaign forever changed the holiday landscape. As the story goes, a group of foreigners in Japan found themselves longing for the comforting taste of home during the festive season. Enter the brilliant minds at KFC, who saw an opportunity to create a Christmas miracle with a twist.

KFC's “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign took flight, introducing the now-iconic holiday combo – a bucket of finger-lickin' good fried chicken accompanied by sides and a festive Christmas cake. The idea was a smashing hit, and the tradition quickly spread across the country, embedding itself in the cultural fabric of Japanese Christmas celebrations.

Moveover, Santa Claus – in Japan, it's Colonel Sanders who steals the show during Christmas! Families eagerly anticipate their annual KFC feast, with elaborate pre-orders and long queues becoming as much a part of the holiday season as twinkling lights and tinsel.

The typical KFC Christmas feast includes a variety of chicken options, from original recipe drumsticks to extra crispy wings. Sides like mashed potatoes and coleslaw add a touch of homey comfort, while a strawberry shortcake tops off the meal with a sweet flourish.

In Japan, the Colonel isn't just a fast-food icon; he's a Christmas legend in his own right. During the holiday season, the iconic Colonel Sanders undergoes a festive makeover, donning a red Santa suit and hat, complete with a sack of chicken instead of toys. Heads up, reindeer – it's time for the KFC sleigh to make its merry rounds!

While KFC's Christmas connection may seem quirky, it's undoubtedly a masterstroke of marketing magic. The “Kentucky for Christmas” campaign tapped into the collective desire for something special during the holiday season, turning KFC into a symbol of joy and togetherness. The clever marketing move has not only endured but has become a cherished annual tradition for millions of Japanese families.

As we unwrap the delicious connection between KFC and Japanese Christmas, it's clear that Colonel Sanders has earned his place alongside other festive icons. From humble beginnings to a nationwide phenomenon, the KFC Christmas tradition in Japan is a testament to the power of creative marketing and the universal joy found in a shared meal.

So, this Christmas, as you sip on your eggnog and gather 'round the table, spare a thought for the families in Japan joyfully embracing the Colonel's crispy creation as a symbol of holiday cheer. After all, nothing says "Merry Christmas" quite like a bucket of KFC goodness!


Works Cited

Barton, Eric. “Why Japan celebrates Christmas with KFC.” BBC, 19 December 2016, Accessed 27 December 2023.

Bouwers, Kirsty. “What's the deal with... KFC and Christmas in Japan?” TimeOut, 5 December 2023, Accessed 27 December 2023.

“How “Kentucky for Christmas” began in Japan | KFC.” KFC, 5 December 2020, Accessed 27 December 2023.

Springer, Kate. “How KFC became a Christmas tradition in Japan.” CNN, 24 December 2019, Accessed 27 December 2023.


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