Residents of Japan don’t necessarily celebrate Christmas in the same manner as Christians in other countries do. However, it is still a holiday where families and couples get together to enjoy the traditional Japanese Christmas food and drink. But don’t expect to find a traditional Christmas ham or turkey, gingerbread men, or any of the other Christmas foods you may be familiar with.
Some traditional Japanese Christmas foods and drinks may seem odd at first. But you’ll understand them once you discover the interesting history behind the traditions. And after you do, you might want to incorporate strawberry shortcake and Kentucky Fried Chicken into your own Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas Day brunch!
Most countries put a heavy focus on cakes, pies, cookies, and other sweets during the holidays. Japan is no exception. Japan’s traditional Christmas Eve dessert is akin to strawberry shortcake, although it is simply referred to as a Christmas Cake. You see these Christmas cakes all over Japan during the holidays, often decorated with Christmas-themed embellishments.
Christmas cake first started becoming popular after World War II, when items such as the cake became a symbol of prosperity as Japan’s economy stabilized and improved. Some say this particular type of cake was also adopted as a traditional Christmas cake in Japan because the white frosting and red strawberries symbolize the colors of the Japanese flag.
Another popular Japanese confection, wagashi is as much a part of Japanese Christmas food as gingerbread men and sugar cookies are in America. The small, sweet treats are made with mochi and adzuki bean paste, and can be molded into different shapes and exhibit different colors. As such, they can be easily made into festive shapes such as snowmen, holly leaves, Santa Claus, and reindeer. In fact, Christmas wagashi designs can become quite creative and elegant. They are often as beautiful to look at as they are good to eat!
Champagne and sparkling saké is also a popular choice for Christmas, but obviously only for adults. However, there is no need for children to miss out on the fun and festivities that follow the sound of a popping champagne cork! With Chanmery, a children’s party drink provided at many celebrations, children can celebrate and make toasts along with the adults. The name is a combination of two words: “Champagne” and “Merry Christmas”! It usually tastes like a carbonated grape juice, but you can find other flavors during the Christmas time. The bottle is also designed to be safe for children. It makes the distinctive “pop” sound without anyone having to worry about a cork flying off and hitting someone!
Kentucky Fried Chicken
Not what you’d expect, right? But believe it or not, KFC has been a traditional Japanese Christmas food since the 1970s, and residents of Japan often have to place their orders weeks in advance to secure their KFC Christmas dinner! It all supposedly started when a group of foreigners in Japan desperately sought a turkey during Christmas. Unable to find one, they secured the next best thing: KFC.
The owner of the KFC then had the clever idea of starting an advertising promotion—“Kurisumasu ni wa kentakkii!” (Kentucky for Christmas!). It was a hit, and today’s KFC Christmas meals also include cornbread, bouillabaisse, cake, and champagne.
Potato salad is another dish you wouldn’t normally expect to find on a Japanese Christmas dinner table. This tradition came from German culture where many people eat potato salad on Christmas Eve.
Buche de Noel (Yule Log Cake)
While the strawberry shortcake is more prevalent, the Buche de Noel is also a popular choice. The rolled cake is decorated to look like a yule log, although much tastier! Just as burning a yule log at Christmastime symbolizes a wish for good luck in the future, so too does consuming a cake that resembles the traditional log!