KFC for Christmas

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas

I started thinking about “The Christmas Post” a few weeks ago, somewhere around the writing of Thanksgiving in Japan.

I’ve even been kicking around a parody of “The Night Before Christmas” in my head, maybe poking fun at some of the unique ways Japanese folks celebrate the American holiday (December 25 isn’t an official holiday in Japan). In a country where about 1 percent of the population identifies as Christian, Christmas is much more about the secular celebration—more Valentine’s Day than what Americans think of as Christmas.

In the 1970s, an American visiting a Tokyo branch of Kentucky Fried Chicken commented that, in a country where turkey is hard to come by, a bucket of KFC is the next best thing. The enterprising store manager overheard the comment and launched an advertising campaign touting “Kentucky For Christmas!” Today, people order their buckets of chicken weeks in advance, waiting in long lines on Christmas Eve to pick up their now-traditional chicken dinner.

Christmas Cake

A wide variety of Christmas Cakes

There’s also a lot of preordering and long-line-waiting for extravagant and expensive Christmas Cakes. The origins of the cake come from the post-World War II recovery of the country. NPR recently did an excellent story about what Christmas Cake really means in Japan.

All that said, my take on this post changed today while watching a toddler shoving a cookie in his face at the checkout line. I caught his eye and he smiled big and waved. That got me to thinking about the spirit of the people we encounter every day, which made me feel bad about my “Night Before Christmas” parody.

To me, Christmas is all about traditions. And the great thing about traditions is that they can change as we change. Our families grow and contract and grow again as the years go by and our traditions update accordingly.


Me and Sam opening presents on Christmas morning. And yes, that’s a brand new Nintendo!

As a kid, I’d wake up early and start coffee on Christmas morning to make sure my folks would be awake enough that we could open presents—although I suspect my dad was awake before I was. I always made sure our dog, Sampson, had something to open as well. We’d have bear claws or butterhorns for breakfast.

In recent years, we’d spend a day in Leavenworth, WA, taking in the famous holiday celebration in the small Bavarian-style town, stopping for Starbucks Peppermint Lattes both on the way up and on the way back. We’d then host the whole family for dinner on Christmas Eve. This year, we’ll start a new tradition.

KFC for Christmas dinner might seem odd. There are no “Jesus is the Reason for the Season” signs in our neighborhood. Yet, Japan has created its own set of traditions. Christmas isn’t a national holiday, but it’s still a time when people show a little more kindness and a little more cheer.

This week, I’ve seen a hairdresser and a pizza delivery guy dressed in Santa suits and a dog wearing a Christmas sweater. “Illuminations” are popular and bountiful. Twinkling lights and guys in Santa suits yield the same joyful reaction here as they do in the U.S.

The Christmas season is one of the few times we Americans set aside our differences. We smile more, give more and spend a little more time together in community. Seeing the season from another perspective, in a society where the community is always the priority over the individual, shows that it’s possible to make that sense of community the norm instead of a seasonal exception.

So, whatever your flavor of the winter holidays may be, I sincerely wish you the happiest season. May that joy continue through the year to come. Happy Holidays!


  • Reply Brian December 24, 2014 at 9:36 pm

    Very uplifting post Robert. Thanks for sharing. I hope your adventures next year are even more interesting and rewarding than what you experienced this past year and I look forward to reading all about them!

    • Reply Cascadian Abroad December 25, 2014 at 8:17 am

      Thanks Brian! We’ve already got some good travels cooked up and I’m sure the daily stuff will continue to throw us for a loop!

  • Reply Deni December 24, 2014 at 11:52 pm

    So beautiful, Robert. May I post it on Facebook?

  • Reply KronWeld December 26, 2014 at 5:07 am

    I’d never heard of the Christmas Cake, I’ll go read about it. I think it is great when a society takes something and makes it theirs, in their own way.

    Oh, I saw the picture before I read the caption and was wondering if that was you as a young boy. You were a cute kid, and you still have that twinkle of joy in your eyes and smile.

  • Reply Amy December 26, 2014 at 6:21 pm

    Merry Christmas, Robert.

  • Reply KronWeld December 28, 2014 at 2:01 pm

    Robert, after reading about Christmas Cakes I have to ask, are they all a sponge cake with strawberries?

    Those cakes in the first picture are quite beautiful. Did you try one?

    • Reply Cascadian Abroad December 28, 2014 at 8:11 pm

      Some, but not all. I’ve seen chocolate cakes, swiss roll-style, narrow cakes, round cakes, DIY cake sets. There’s something for every taste! We bought a smaller chocolate cake that isn’t pictured. And they are beautiful! One of the students who visited the Salem back in the spring said the cakes in the U.S. were not pretty. True, comparatively speaking!

  • Reply KronWeld December 29, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    Why can’t I reply to replies? It is annoying!

    Anyway, if you can, would you post some better picutes of the individual cakes? The ones I find on google aren’t as lovely as you’ve implied.


    Oh, Happy New Year! Is there a New Year’s Cake?

  • Reply Japanese New Year Traditions | Cascadian Abroad January 1, 2015 at 4:48 pm

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