When I think of Christmas, ordering fast food is just about the last thing that comes to mind. Pass the turkey, mashed potatoes, and cranberry sauce, please! However, over in Japan, children eagerly count down the days until Christmas Day so they can dig into a bucket of fried chicken from KFC with their families. How did the KFC Japan Christmas tradition take hold and why does it remain so popular? 

Filling a Void

Christmas is primarily a Christian holiday, but only 1% of the Japanese population identifies as being Christian. During December, you'll see the normal Christmas decorations adorning the streets, but the emphasis is on spending time with family and enjoying the time of year. In a way, it's similar to American Valentine's Day, with gifts being exchanged between couples over a fancy dinner. 

The first KFC opened in Japan back in 1970 by Takeshi Okawara. After overhearing travelers visiting Japan over the Christmas holidays saying that they missed the classic turkey dinner, Okawara saw the potential to start something finger-lickin' good. His epiphany? The "Party Barrel."

Introduced in 1974 along with the Kentucky For Christmas campaign, Okawara hoped that The Party Barrel, which features fried chicken, could be a sufficient substitute for turkey. And miraculously, he was correct. With no unique Japanese Christmas traditions, associating Christmas with chicken from KFC was easy. So easy that it gained popularity nationwide almost immediately.

Pre-ordering the Party Barrel has become an exclusive Japanese Christmas tradition. To ensure you get your Christmas meal, families order their Party Barrel and confirm pick-up time weeks in advance. If you don't, have fun standing in line for hours. Literally. 

Like a turkey dinner, the Japan KFC Christmas tradition encourages families to come together for a reunion. The habit seems to have stuck. Even 40 years later, kids and their parents alike have fond memories over their annual fried chicken. During the month of December, demand for KFC skyrockets. In fact, nearly 3.6 million families partake in this unique tradition.

The Party Barrel

For about $32 (American), the family-sized Party Barrel contains fried chicken, Japanese Christmas Cake, and wine. Yes you read that right—Japanese KFCs sell wine). If you're feeling extra festive, you could order the Premium Party Barrel with a roast chicken or ribs and your choice of sides.

The barrel itself features Colonel Sanders sporting a Santa Hat. If you visit one of the restaurants, chances are you'll find a life-size Colonel dressed up as Santa as well. And all those holiday parties? Chances are good that the Colonel will make an appearance amongst the other holiday goodies.

While the story of the KFC Japan Christmas is hella cool, I highly doubt that the practice will take hold on this side of the world. I don't know about you, but if someone offered me fast food for Christmas, I might be a little offended. For me, Christmas is about spending time with my family. Some of my favorite memories are from spending the day preparing the Christmas dinner and decorating holiday treats.

But hey, if you're a die-hard KFC fan, this would make a good excuse to travel over to Japan. Not to mention, embracing other cultural practices is always great.