“For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.” Luke 12:23
The presence of a life-sized plastic statue of Colonel Sanders dressed in a Santa suit in front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken store marked our initial realization that Christmas was celebrated differently in Japan. While we associate Christmas with many traditions in the West, dining on KFC chicken is not one them. However, in Japan, eating Kentucky Fried chicken is widely considered to be the meal of choice for Christmas. This unusual tradition began in 1974 when KFC promoted fried chicken as a Christmas meal calling it “Kentucky Christmas” (ケンタッキークリスマス) as part of a clever advertising campaign. Since Japan had few established Christmas traditions at the time, and turkey was generally unavailable, the idea quickly caught on and became part of the Japanese psyche of how Christmas should be properly celebrated. This custom became so popular that approximately 3.6 million Japanese families now order their Kentucky Christmas weeks in advance and then endure long lines to pick up their holiday meal. Perhaps this link to a KFC commercial with a popular Japanese Christmas song will make you want to rush out and order your own Kentucky Christmas! https://youtu.be/umHfb1JHovA
Christmas Day is not designated as a national holiday in Japan, which alters some of the rhythms we normally associate with Christmas. For example, the Kentucky Christmas, or some other substitute, is generally eaten on Christmas Eve after all the members of the family have returned from work or school. The meal is almost always followed by what is called a “Christmas cake,” which is traditionally a sponge cake decorated with strawberries and whipped cream. Some say this custom began when strawberries were difficult to purchase at that time of year, so they represented economic prosperity and the red color was associated with Christmas. In recent years, Pizza Hut has tried to start its own Christmas campaign and was successful to such an extent that pizza is now considered acceptable Christmas cuisine. With the passage of time and through increasing influence from the West, the concept of Christmas has become wildly popular in Japan, as evidenced by the presence of Christmas decorations and music in most stores, special Christmas light displays, and an exchange of presents. In addition, many families now purchase and decorate their own Christmas tree.
Lost in this commercialized holiday shuffle is a genuine understanding of the true meaning of Christmas. Thanks to Japanese merchants eager to capitalize on the event and misconceptions imported from abroad, Christmas in Japan has largely become a shallow celebration rooted in self-indulgence earmarked by food, fun music, appealing decorations and shopping. While these things may be enjoyed and none of them are essentially bad, an overemphasis on the trappings of Christmas can easily lead one to lose a balanced perspective that “life is more than food” (Luke 12:23). In reality, we have far greater needs that can ever be filled through commercial promises of food, festivities and even family. Christmas represents something much deeper that only God could provide. Rather than a Kentucky Christmas, God’s campaign to redeem mankind began with a Bethlehem Christmas, which is a story worth retelling and certainly celebrating. This is “food” that will satisfy for eternity.