We associate many foods with Christmas, including dessert items such as cookies and mainstays of Christmas dinner, such as goose, ham, and even tamales. But not every country has the same Christmas traditions, even if most are at least in part celebrating the birth of Christ. What happens in a country with neither traditions nor Christians? Fried chicken, of course.
In the 1950s and 1960s, Japan rebuilt its infrastructure after WWII. As the country expanded to become a manufacturing powerhouse, its citizens began to flex their consumer muscles. Japan is a largely Buddhist nation, with fewer than 1% identifying as Christian. But the rising consumer class was hungry to emulate the higher living standards they saw around the world, and the U.S. seemed to be a great example, so the Japanese adopted Christmas, albeit on a secular basis.
But that left them in a quandry. The Japanese were celebrating a holiday with no local history, no local traditions.
At the same time, the nation was opening up to many different foreign influences, including American restaurants from Baskin-Robbins to the Original Pancake House.
Between 970 and 1980, Japan’s fast-food industry expanded 600%, and included Kentucky Fried Chicken, which opened its first Japanese location in 1970 in Nagoya. By 1980, the company had more than 300 locations.
In 1974, Kentucky Fried Chicken rolled out its “Kentucky for Christmas” marketing campaign, which it followed with Christmas party buckets. The buckets include fried chicken, salad, cake, and a paper party plate.
A tradition was born!
Kentucky Fried Chicken supported the marketing campaign with tons of advertising, which included playing “My Old Kentucky Home” in the background. Not exactly a Christmas carol, but hey, it’s American.
As for the food, fried chicken is quite close to several traditional Japanese dishes that involve panko-crusted meat, so that wasn’t a problem.
Besides, who could resist the best part of all, Colonel Sanders dressed as Santa, which is a regular sight this time of year.