If you were to put together a list of traditional festive foods, a big ol' KFC bucket is unlikely to be at the top of your list. Even if it does come slathered in gravy just like your Christmas roast.

That's why you might be surprised to learn that around 3.6 million Japanese families have their own festive finger lickin' tradition, tucking into the fast food and hangover cure at Christmas every year.

Around December time in Japan, sales of KFC skyrocket, with daily sales at some stores jumping to 10 times their usual levels and queues lasting for hours. The company's Christmas dinner packages account for about a third of its yearly sales in the country.

As a mostly Shinto and Buddhist nation, Japan doesn't celebrate Christmas like the West. While there are some Christians, some Japanese people treat Christmas as a romantic holiday, while others don't celebrate it at all. So what's the reason for this tradition?

Credit: PA

It all started with Takeshi Okawara, who managed the country's first KFC and came up with the idea of a 'party barrel' to keep customers happy at Christmas time.

Okawara came up with the idea after overhearing foreigners who were visiting his store complain about missing turkey for Christmas. That led him to decide that fried chicken could be the next best thing.

The marketing plan went nationwide across Japan in 1974, and was known as 'Kurisumasu ni wa Kentakkii', or 'Kentucky for Christmas'. It quickly became a national phenomenon, and Okawara was rewarded for his brainwave. He eventually became KFC Japan's CEO for 18 years.

"It filled a void," Joonas Rokka, associate professor of marketing at Emlyon Business School in France told the BBC. "There was no tradition of Christmas in Japan, and so KFC came in and said this is what you should do on Christmas."

KFC's Christmas meals in Japan now come in family meal-sized boxes, smacked full of chicken, cake and wine. You can even buy a whole chicken with sides if you want. Saves doing it yourself at home, huh?

The chain's Japanese branch was also really clever by putting the company mascot, Colonel Sanders, in a red Santa Claus suit, linking the company with Christmas in the minds of millions of diners and hungover students.

Credit: PA

While the idea of bringing fast food to yer ma's for Christmas dinner is probably alien to many Westerners, as Japan doesn't officially celebrate Christmas, sharing a bucket just seems practical to many Japanese.

"It's kind of a symbol of family reunion," explained Ryohei Ando, a Japanese father-of-two whose family celebrates the tradition. "It's not about the chicken. It's about getting the family together, and then there just happens to be chicken as part of it."

KFC's success in Japan at Christmas is just a strange result of globalisation. It's an example of a country grabbing another place's traditions and translating them in a new way.

So if you think Santa might get bored of milk and cookies this year, you can always leave him some Popcorn Chicken and a small Coke instead.

Featured Image Credit: KFC Japan

Chris Ogden

Chris Ogden is a journalist at LADbible. He graduated from the University of East Anglia with degrees in English Literature and Creative Writing before completing his NCTJ Diploma in Multimedia Journalism. Chris has previously written for the independent culture magazine The Skinny, among other publications.

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