What's red, white, and involves feasting on a large fried chicken, brought to you by a jolly, overweight bearded white man?
In Japan, "Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!" ("For Christmas it's Kentucky!)" is the Colonel's jingle that has successfully coaxed many into gracing their Christmas banquets buckets of fried chicken for the last 40 years. This festive, finger-lickin' frenzy is thanks to a stroke of opportunistic marketing by a gaijin (foreigner) who worked at one of the Tokyo KFC stores. In 1974, the Japanese market was primed for a Christmas tradition takeover: the World Exposition had been held in Osaka in 1970, bringing in an American pop culture boom along with the Western fast food craze. The first Christmas campaign was rolled out on December 1, 1974, pushing the theme of "a day to please the children," and the rest is Yuletide history.
Today, no Japanese Christmas celebration is complete without streets decked in Christmas lights and KFC. Every December, KFC Japan takes in 20 percent of its annual sales revenue; a time when staff works around the clock, pre-orders are taken weeks in advance, and Christmas Eve lines last for hours on end.
As a country traditionally Shinto or Buddhist, New Year is the main culture and religiously significant event, and Krimbo was without longstanding rituals. According to KFC Japan, one canny expat had the idea to fill the void of home-cooked roasted turkey with the Colonel's fried chicken.
From December 19th-25th every year across Japan, you can indulge in a variety of fried golden dining options for anywhere from ¥2000-8000 ($20-80 USD).The Christmas Party Barrel features a bucket adorned in the patterns of your best Christmas sweater and brimming with KFC's standard chicken derivatives: fried chicken pieces, nuggets, and tenderloins. Sides include a Christmas salad (yellow, green, and red brightly colored vegetables, cheddar cheese, and bacon bits), chocolate cake, and a festively decorated plate.
And with the Premium Series, you get a whole roasted chicken that's got a Parmesan crust.
In Tokyo for Christmas this year, and having never eaten Kentakkii before, I thought it would get into the spirit. I went with the ¥3600 Christmas Pack, a box of fried chicken, chicken strips, nuggets, and a roasted chicken thigh slathered in barbecue sauce to make sure I could sample the full KFC chicken spectrum. For an extra ¥290, I added a bottle of 'Chanmery', a sparkling, non-alcoholic champagne-like beverage adorned with a logo of the Colonel in his Santa threads, because after all, it is Christmas.
I didn't realize it was non-alcoholic.
Heeding the warnings of long lines, I pre-ordered at my local KFC store in Shibuya. And with mixed emotions, I picked it up and went home to tuck into my fried Christmas pack spread.
The meal ranked high in novelty, but I doubt I'll be decking my arteries with the Colonel's 11 Secret Spices for Christmas again anytime soon.