Have you ever wondered how people in Japan celebrate Christmas? Do Japanese people even celebrate Christmas? The answer is yes and no. Traditionally Christmas is a Christian holiday, since only about 1% of Japanese people are Christian, Christmas doesn’t really have much reason to be very popular in Japan. Despite this initial apparent conflict, the large commercial side of Christmas, including the exchange of gifts and large intricately decorated Christmas Trees actually took on fairly quickly as a fun western tradition in which people promote happiness rather than religion.
While in western cultures, Traditional Christmas foods include baked goods such as turkey and ham, as well as an assortment of cakes, pies, and other regional delicacies; these foods were not commonly found in Japan, therefore an actual formal Christmas menu wasn’t really established. Despite this, we do find a few Japanese Christmas culinary traditions that have turned up throughout the years. Such as the Christmas Cake, which is basically a spongecake with whipped cream and strawberries typically served on Christmas. This became popular in the 50’s when refrigerators became a common commodity, which make it easier for people to have access to and refrigerate Christmas cakes.
Another popular Japanese Christmas tradition is that of families sitting around the table in order to partake in a traditional Fried Chicken dinner. What, what? yes you heard me right. Friend Chicken became very popular as a Christmas food in Japan in the 70’s thanks to a very well known American Friend Chicken chain, based in Kentucky. Yes, KFC’s very own Colonel Sanders in Santa Clause attire became very popular as the pinnacle of western Christmas Tradition. A tradition that appears to continue to be very popular to this date, where approximately 33% of Adults in Japan still follow this tradition, of eating friend chicken for Christmas. Making Christmas day the most profitable day for KFC Japan with pre-orders being necessary to guarantee a basket of Kentucky Friend Chicken will grace the tables of Japanese Families on Christmas Day.
Which Brings me to another different in the way Christmas is celebrated in Japan, I use the word “families” loosely, because while families do celebrate Christmas and parties are often planned for children. There is a growing trend in Japan of categorizing Christmas as a day for young lovers to go out together on a romantic date. The beautiful Christmas decorations and lights around cities and shops make unique backdrop for young couples who wish to spend a romantic evening out. An increase in media coverage has helped this growing trend establish Christmas as an official romantic holiday, not unlike Valentines day.
In truly unique Japanese fashion, I propose a twist to the traditional American Christmas. Instead of staying home for another family dinner of Baked Turkey and Mashed potatoes; how about taking out your loved ones to eat non traditional fried Japanese Tempura, or Share a mixed sushi Boat. Now that is a Japanese Tradition I would love to be a part of.