Kentucky Fried Chicken, Krampus, and more global Christmas traditions

How do you celebrate the holidays? Would it surprise you that for many Japanese, Christmas is synonymous with Kentucky Fried Chicken?  

At last week’s LocLunch Dallas networking event, we were comparing Christmas celebrations from around the world, when Yuka Kurihara shared that growing up in Japan, she always looked forward to her family’s traditional Christmas meal: a KFC “party barrel” brimming with salad, cake and lots of fried chicken. According to Statista, no less than 58.2% of Japanese eat fried chicken at Christmas. When she moved to California, years later, Yuka was very disappointed to find out Americans did not actually celebrate the holiday by eating KFC. 

So just how did Christmas in Japan become synonymous with a big bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Apparently, it involves some very clever marketing: In 1970, Takeshi Okawara, manager of the first KFC restaurant in Japan, began promoting fried chicken “party barrels” as a Christmas meal intended to serve as a substitute for the traditional American turkey dinner.

The local promotion worked so well that, four years later, the chain’s national marketing team saw this as an ideal opportunity to launch a country-wide end-of-year marketing campaign that claimed to be inspired by the U.S. holiday tradition of eating Kentucky Fried Chicken at Christmas. The slogan ‘kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!’ or ‘Kentucky for Christmas!’ was born. 

In a stroke of luck, the team also realized that a dressed-up Colonel Sanders could be made to look very similar to Santa. Thanks to this likeness many Japanese children started confusing the two. This helped solidify the myth.

For 47 years and counting now, the American fast food chain has continued celebrating its busiest time of year around the December holiday. Earnings typically total around 7 billion yen from December 20th through the 25th and wait times during that period can be up to 2 hours. KFC Japan’s busiest day is usually Christmas Eve, on which they sell about 5 to 10 times more than on regular days. The restaurant is so popular around this time of year that some dinner specials can only be ordered in advance. 

So, what do you think, brilliant localized marketing campaign or questionable alternate reality?

Who recognizes some of the other international holiday traditions in the collage? 


In Iceland, kids get a group of 13 mischievous pranksters who steal from or harass the population and all have descriptive names that convey their favorite way of harassing — including Doorway-Sniffer, Spoon-Licker, Sausage-Swiper, Candle-Stealer, Curd-Gobbler, and the ominously named Window-Peeper. They come to town one by one during the last 13 nights before Yule. They leave small gifts in shoes that children have placed on windowsills, but if the child has been disobedient, they instead leave a rotten potato in the child’s shoe. 


In Austria, if kids end up on Santa’s naughty list, they must worry about Krampus: a hairy beast with horns that snatches misbehaving children in his wicker basket, serving as Saint Nicholas’ creepy enforcer. Krampusnacht is celebrated on December 5th in many alpine villages around Salzburg and Tyrol.


Sinterklaas or Sint-Nicolaas is the patron saint of children and arrives to leave gifts for all kids that have been good on St. Nicholas’ Eve (5 December) in the Netherlands and on the morning of Dec. 6, Saint Nicholas Day, in Belgium, Luxembourg, and northern France (French Flanders, Lorraine, and Artois). The tradition is also celebrated in some territories of the former Dutch Empire, including Aruba.

Sinterklaas is one of the sources of the popular Christmas icon of Santa Claus.


Catalans celebrate not one but two poo-based Christmas traditions. The first is the ‘caganer’, roughly meaning ‘the pooper’ — a figurine depicted in nativity scenes alongside Jesus, Mary and Joseph. The second is ‘cagatió — or the ‘pooping log’ — a small stick with a smile on its face that lives on the dinner table in December, is ‘fed’ every day with nuts and sweets and kept warm with a blanket, then gets beaten with sticks on Christmas Eve to poop out presents. Seriously…


The residents of South Wales parade an undead horse around this happiest time of year. The Mari Lwyd is a wassailing folk custom dating back to Celtic times. The tradition involves draping a white sheet over a pole with a horse skull attached and knocking on townsfolk’s doors to frighten residents. Mari Lwyd is translated as either ‘Holy Mary’ or ‘Grey Mare.’


In Italy, Befana, an old, wine-drinking witch delivers gifts to children throughout Italy on Epiphany Eve (the night of January 5), 12 days after Christmas, in a similar way to St. Nicholas or Santa Claus. Her name derives from the Feast of Epiphany (Festa dell’Epifania in Italian). Epifania is a Latin word with Greek origins meaning “manifestation (of the divinity).” Families across Italy leave out a glass of wine and a plate of sausages for La Befana, who pops down the chimney on her broomstick and leaves gifts and candy for the kids.


In Ukraine’s legend of the Christmas spider, a poor Ukrainian woman and her kids cultivate a Christmas tree from a pine but can’t afford any decorations. On Christmas morning, they wake up to find their tree blanketed in cobwebs which the sunlight then transformed into gold and silver, making them rich. 


In the city of Oaxaco, the Night of the Radishes precedes the days before Christmas with a vegetable-carving competition. The radishes they use are specially cultivated and pumped with chemicals, so they grow immense. It only takes a couple hours before the vegetables wither away, meaning the art lasts only a short time.

In what extraordinary way do you celebrate the holidays?

Stefan Huyghe
Stefan Huyghe is Vice President of Localization at Communicaid Inc. where he focuses on running high-level operations, workflow optimization, database development, social selling and community building. He has over 20 years of experience working in the language industry is fluent in Dutch, French, German, and English.


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