The holiday season has arrived and, even though this year may be different than others, there are some traditions that will find a way to live on no matter what. Whether that’s pulling out your favorite KFC holiday sweater for your virtual ugly sweater party, cozying up at home with your 11 herbs and spices fire log or celebrating the Christmas season with a contactless delivery of Japan’s traditional holiday cuisine, a KFC bucket, some traditions are here to stay.
Yes, you read that last one right. Since the 1970s, KFC has been embedded in Japanese culture as a part of the local Christmas tradition and celebrations. This time of year is when KFC Japan sees their highest sales, with December 24 being the busiest day of the year - ten times busier than KFC Japan’s annual average. So go ahead, bundle up in your KFC holiday sweater, gather around your 11 herbs and spices fire log, and I’ll tell you the story of “Kentucky for Christmas” in Japan.
It all started in the late 1960s when Japanese people began enjoying Christmas as a seasonal event, hosting Christmas parties at home after local confectionery companies started promoting cakes and sweets for kids this time of year. Initially, the celebrations were just for entertaining kids. Then, in the 1970s, KFC came to Japan and, in 1974, launched the first KFC Christmas campaign, selling a bucket of KFC’s famous fried chicken along with a bottle of wine and suggesting it be used for a Christmas party that wasn’t just for kids, but for grownups too. The original idea for the campaign came when a foreign customer who visited KFC in Tokyo on Christmas day said, “I can’t get turkey in Japan, so I have no choice but to celebrate Christmas with Kentucky Fried Chicken”. A team member on the KFC Japan sales team overheard the remark and used it as inspiration to launch the first Christmas campaign and its tagline- Kentucky for Christmas. The campaign was a hit, and Kentucky for Christmas quickly became a tradition across Japan that lives on to this day.
Since its original launch in 1974, KFC Japan’s Christmas campaign has continued to evolve over the years to include Colonel statues dressed in Santa attire outside restaurants across the country and Christmas-exclusive menu items like a premium roast chicken, a locally grown and sourced, premium chicken that’s hand prepared and stuffed with cheese and mushrooms, baked fresh in the restaurant. KFC Japan starts advertising and taking preorders and reservations for its holiday specials as early as late October to get the country excited for the upcoming Christmas season. The famous party bucket also changes each year, featuring different side options, a new festive bucket design and comes with a commemorative plate inside. While the design of the bucket and the sides may change each year, KFC’s famous fried chicken stays at the center of the party bucket, and the Christmas holiday in Japan. Kentucky for Christmas is a Japanese tradition that’s here to stay.